Mystery Creature – January 2017

Mystery Creature – January 2017

A new year and a good time to renew the Mystery Creature spot; This year I think I will do just one a month, posting the animal at the start of the month and revealing what the animal was and some facts about it, at the end of that week. As always, if you think you know what it might be, leave a comment, share some facts or ask some questions!

First up is this fairly prehistoric looking bird, do you know what it is?


photo credit: uccsbiology Cassowary via photopin (license)

[Edit]… and here is the post that reveals what the mystery creature is along with some interesting facts about it.

Mystery Creature Revealed – the Sea Squirt

Mystery Creature Revealed – the Sea Squirt

Well done to six-year-old Daniel who correctly identified the Mystery Creature (again). Daniel really knows his animals! The Mystery Creature was a sea squirt… a very interesting animal, here are just a few reasons why.

  • Sea squirts come in many shapes and sizes, there are more than 3,000 species of them. They are officially called tunicates (the name refers to their tunic like exterior). Depending on their size and shape they are also called sea pork, sea tulips, sea pineapples and sea liver. Sea squirts get their name from their tendency to compress their bodies and squirt out water when disturbed.


Sea Pineapple: Image credit: Project Manhattan; Image source: wiki commons
  • Tunicates are widely distributed through the World’s oceans, but most are found in warm seas. Although there are exceptions, most sea squirts spend their adult lives attached to a solid object, usually on the seabed.
  • They start their lives in egg form but quickly grow into tadpole-like larvae (often within a matter of hours), with a tail and a basic type of backbone, called a notochord. In this form, they are unable to feed and their primary function is to find a suitable place to attach themselves, for the rest of their lives. Some species, such as the larvaceans never anchor, instead, they retain their tails which help to propel them through the water.
  • Once the sea squirt larva (tadpole-like form) finds a suitable place to anchor, it will attach, head first, glueing itself in place with a sticky like secretion. Next comes a large transformation, it reabsorbed much of its body (including its tail, notochord and basic eye) and recycles them into its adult structure.
  • The adult structure of most sea squirts consists of a sac-like body with two siphons – water is sucked into one and forced out of the other. Most sea squirts are filter feeders, they take in seawater and filter our plankton and nutrients, ejecting the filtered water back out of their bodies.


Image credit: Silke Baron; Image source: Wiki commons

  • During the transformation from larva to adult, the sea squirt reabsorbed many parts of its body,transforming them into adult organs. Sea squirts are known for ‘eating their own brain‘ in this manner, as they reabsorb the basic brain of the larva during the transformation. It is not quite as simple, or dramatic as the statement suggests, though, adults do contain a hollow cerebral ganglion, a brain type structure with nerves feeding out to certain parts of the body.
  • Most sea squirts are hermaphrodites, meaning that they contain both male and female organs. Many can also reproduce by budding, a process whereby a new animal buds off and grows from the parent, eventually disconnecting once fully formed.
  • Although there are some solitary species of sea squirts, most live in groups or colonies.

Thanks again to Daniel for correctly identifying this Mystery Creature, it really is quite an amazing animal. Check back next week for another new Mystery Creature!




Mystery Creature Revealed – the Hoatzin

Mystery Creature Revealed – the Hoatzin

Last week’s mystery creature, a very unusual looking bird, was the Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin). Well done to six-year-old David who knew what it was. David is an avid animal lover who currently lives in Singapore.


Image credit: Bill Bouton, Image source: wiki commons.
  • Hoatzin are very unusal among birds for a variety of reasons and have intrigued scientists since they were first described in 1776, by German zoologist Statius Müller. Here are just some of facts about these amazing creatures.
  • Hoatzin are herbivores – but most of their diet consists of leaves, which is unique among birds. In order to digest this cellulose rich diet they have a digestive system more similar to cows (and ruminants) than to any other bird.
  • They have developed very large crops and the leaves they digest are fermented within their digestive systems. This process begins in their crop and is aided by anaerobic bacteria found throughout their guts, which feed on the leaves and help break down the tough cellulose within them.
  • They digest their food very slowly and are often seen sitting around, appearing to do very little at all.
  • The development of their large crop to aid digestion comes at a price; these birds have little space left in their chest and their breast-bones are very simple. Their pectoral muscles are small and weak. These are the muscles that power flight, so these birds are poor flyers and appear quite awkward and ungainly.
  • There is one other thing about their diet and digestion that makes these birds very distinctive, it is their smell! They are often referred to as Stink Birds, as the fermentation of leaves does not create an odour that humans find attractive. Because of this foul smell, people have no wish to eat them so they are not hunted. Sometimes it pays to be smelly!
  • Hoatzin live very social lives, often found in large flocks of up to 40 birds. They are found in the rainforests of the Amazon – usually in trees along a river or beside a lake or some other water source. They are very vocal birds with a variety of sounds from calls, to hisses, grunts and croaks.
  • The appearance of the Hoatzin is very striking and gives them the reputation as a ‘pre-historic’ bird. They have bright blue faces with dark red eyes. They have a strip of long feathers on their head, a crest, giving them a mohawk-type feature. They belong to the family called Opisthocomidae which comes from the greek for ‘have long hair behind‘ – referring to these mohawk styles.
  • Hoatzin are so unique among bird that they are the only species in this Opisthocomidae family.
  • The chicks of these birds have claws on their wings (wich disappear after about three months). If the nest is threatened the chicks will often flee and hide, they are even able to escape to the water if necessary and are good underwater swimmers. Once the coast is clear they will use their clawed wings to help them climb back up a tree, to the nest.
  • Based on their dinosaur-like appearance, and the wing claw of their chicks, there has long been a fascination with the evolution of this bird. Some thought they were the link between reptiles and birds. Others thought they were a modern day version of the Archaeopteryx, a bird attributed as an evolutionary step from dinosaur to bird. There were also similarities in appearance between the Hoatzin and the Archaeopteryx. Recent genetic sequencing of Hoatzin genome now suggests that it is the only surviving member of a lineage that branched off some 64 million years ago (not long after many dinosaurs became extinct) and that it evolved its traits indepedent of the archaopteryx lineage.


I found this one of the most fascinating Mystery Creatured to date, I hope you enjoyed it too. As always, if you have any suggestions for the Mystery Creature spot, please get in contact! 

Mystery Creature – July 25th, 2016

Mystery Creature – July 25th, 2016

Another week, another Mystery Creature; this one is fascinating. Some of its characteristics include being poor at flying and eating only plants (a herbivore), which is fairly uncommon among birds. This unusual bird also shares a feature with the prehistoric bird-like dinosaur called Archaeopteryx.

Do you know what that feature is and can you name the bird?

Mystery Creature 25.7.16

Photo credit: Kate

Remember to ask questions if you want help working out this week’s Mystery Creature… and check back at the end of the week to find out what it is and some amazing facts about this very unusual bird!

Mystery Creature reveal – The Hairy Frogfish

Mystery Creature reveal – The Hairy Frogfish

What did you think of last week’s Mystery Creature? An unusual looking fish, I’m sure you’ll agree. Did you guess what it was? It was a hairy frog fish (Antennarius species)!

These amazing looking creatures (some call them ugly but I think they look cute – in an ugly kind of way) come in various shapes and colours. Like this one…


Image Credit: Silke Baron

They all have some distinctive facts in common, for example…

  • Frogfish tend to move slowly through the water, often they “walk” along the seabed, using their dorsal fins as feet, just like the epaulette shark, that featured here recently.
  • Many frogfish species have spiky structures all over their bodies, called spinules, which look quite like hairs. These can help protect them.
  • Frogfish like to blend into their surroundings, and they often hide in coral beds and in large patches of seaweed. Their ‘hairy’ bodies, help mimic these surroundings and keep them camouflaged. Some species are covered in algae, to further help with this.
  • Many species will also change the colour of their skin as another form of camouflage.
  • Frogfish are anglerfish, they have a little lure on the front of their heads, that acts like bait, attracting their prey in close enough for the fish to eat them.
  • They are prepared to wait for their dinner. Once they find a good place to hide they have been known to stay in that position for weeks at a time, until they manage to catch their prey.
  • Despite their slow movement and long waits in a stationary position, when they do strike to catch their prey, it is with incredible speed.
  • The wait is often worth it, as frogfish have large, extended mouths, and can catch and consume a creature as big as themselves. In fact, frogfish are carnivores and will even eat another frogfish if it comes too close.


Image credit: Steve Childs
  • It is not surprising therefore that they are solitary creatures.
  • Some species of frogfish can inflate, when threatened, similar to pufferfish, drawing in water to enhance their size.

Many divers and underwater enthusiasts can spend years waiting to spot one of these fish as they are so well hidden. They are certainly intriguing creatures.  If you have any more information or facts to add, just pop them in the comments below. Or if you have a creature you want to suggest for the Mystery Creature slot, let us know!

Mystery Creature – July 11, 2016

Mystery Creature – July 11, 2016

This is a wonderful looking fish, as soon as I spotted him on twitter, I knew he would be great for the Mystery Creature spot this week.

Do you know what this is?…

Mystery creature July11

Image credit: SteveChilds; Image source: wikicommons

Remember, you can ask questions and look for tips if you want, this could make a great challenge for the kids while on their Summer holidays.

Check back at the end of the week to find out what it is, and some very interesting facts about this amazing Mystery Creature!

Mystery creature revealed – the scorpion fly

Mystery creature revealed – the scorpion fly

This week’s Mystery Creature was certainly a bizzare looking insect; it looked like a hybrid of a fly and a scorpion, which is why it is aptly named as the scorpion fly. Scorpion flies come under the order Mecoptera, of which there are many families. This scorpion fly is a common scorpion fly (the Panorpidae family).

Well done to Sandra M. who rightly identified this week’s Mystery Creature!


P. Communis; Image credit: Mikkel Houmøller (Lostmonkey); Image source: wiki commons

There are nearly 600 species of scorpion fly worldwide.

The scorpion fly (sometimes called a scorpion wasp because of colouring) has some very distinctive features. Firstly, that scorpion-like tail, found only in males, which is not actually a tail at all, but the genitals of the insect! These scorpion-like tails also have notal organs to help hold a mate. The females body just tapers into a straight point, with no dramatically curving appendages!

The scorpion fly also has a very long face, forming a beak-like projection, with mouth parts (mandibula) at the end.

Both the male and female have patterned wings, with a delicate appearance. They are poor fliers and prefer short flights. The spend much of their time crawling among vegetation.

Although this is a foreboding looking insect, it poses no threat to humans. It usually feeds on other dead insects, rotting fruit and nectar.

The eggs of the scorpion fly are laid in the soil and the larvae live underground. They are scavenger feeders too and have a caterpillar appearance during their early stages of development.

Romance comes in an unusual form, the males will typically woo the female with a gift, which may be a piece of a dead insect or a drop of saliva!

They like to live in damp, shaded areas such as lightly wooded spaces, hedgerows or uncultivated patches of land. They are often spotted in nettle patches.

Scorpion flies are considered living fossils as their fossil records date back 250 million years.

Mystery creature – can you name this insect?

Mystery creature – can you name this insect?

Nature is truly amazing, isn’t it? Just looking at the diversity of creatures on this planet confirms that. This week’s mystery creature is a very bizarre looking insect, and an excellent example of just how creative mother nature really is.

Can you name it?


Image credit: Sebastian Wallroth;

Here is a clue: say what you see and you will probably work out the name of this insect! As always you can leave your comments, questions or guesses below. Remember to check back at the end of the week to find out for sure.

Update: Want to find out what it is? Here is the post that reveals what this insect is and some interesting facts about it!

Mystery Creature revealed – the binturong

Mystery Creature revealed – the binturong

How did you do with this week’s mystery creature? A cute but unusual looking animal, don’t you think? Some say it has a face like a cat and a body like a bear which is why it is commonly called the bearcat, but its proper name is the Binturong (Arctictis binturong).


Image credit: Pomax

The Binturong belongs to the viverridae family, making it a cousin to civets, genets, fossas and mongooses. These shy animals live in dense rainforests of Southeast Asia and tend to live solitary lives. They can grow to more than a metre in length; their strong, thick tails are about as long as their bodies. The females tend to be larger than the males, about 20% larger, and are the dominant sex of the species.

Binturong spend much of their time in the dense canopies up in the trees. Their thick tails are prehensile, and they use them like a monkey, to help them grip and hold branches when they move around. The top of their tails even have a short leather patch, to help with gripping.

Binturong move about the trees slowly and carefully, they are too large and heavy to jump from tree to tree and must instead climb down to the forest floor. Most of their time is spent in the trees, they even sleep up there.  They are mainly nocturnal animals, sleeping for most of the day and emerging at dusk to feed.  Although they eat some meat – such as birds and small mammals and insects, most of their diet consists of fruit and plants. They are good swimmers and will also feed on fish.

As with other members of the viverridae family, they have scent glands under their tails. To humans binturong smell like buttered popcorn and recent studies have identified the same compound, 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline(2-AP), to be found in both binturong urine and popcorn.

Binturong have a wide variety of vocal sounds; depending on its mood and what it wants to communicate it can make sounds like purrs, chuckles, growls, grunts  and hisses.

They walk like bears and humans, flat on both feet with an ambling appearance. Unlike bears and humans, they can turn their ankles 180 degrees, allowing their semi-retractable claws to grip the bark of trees, no matter what direction the animal is facing.

It is thought that females can delay implantation of their fertilised egg. This means that they can time the birth of their young to the most favourable season.

Due to their fruit rich diet, binturong play an important part in seed distribution within the tropical rain forests they inhabit. They are particularly important to strangled fig plants as their digestive systems contains rare enzymes, capable of breaking down the fig seed’s tough outer coating, allowing the seeds to be dispersed in the binturongs droppings.

Binturong have no known predators other than humans but are classes as vulnerable, with a population decline of more than 30% over the past 30 years.


Remember to check back tomorrow for a new mystery creature; I found the binturong a cute, and fascinating animal,  especially the fact that it smells like popcorn, what did you think?