Episode 158 – Thorn Bug: Thorin Oaken-eater

“…and today we’re talking about a bug with a prickly personality. But more on that later.” 

The tropics are teaming with life. That means there’s an abundance of resources for you and your brood to enjoy. It also means that there’s plenty of competition looking to eat your food or eat you. Protecting yourself can mean developing one of several tactics. You could focus on defense, you could try to blend in, or you could try to go for both at once. The thorn bug has done just that. But with great tools, the next thing is to perfect their application in real Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Description of the Thorn Bug

  • These guys ain’t called thorn bugs for nothing. 
  • Start with a typical oblong cicada shape with those folded clearish wings
  • They have green heads with large, bright-red eyes and six legs coming out from underneath the body
  • Then add a giant thorn on top of its back – called the pronotal horn. From the crown of its head, the green thorn sticks up and curves slightly backward with a sharp reddish tip before cresting back down to the end of the abdomen
  • It goes without saying that the goal is to look as much like a thorn as possible. This deters predators (mainly birds) not only because they have sharp bodies but also because birds generally don’t want their toes poked

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a Measure Up intro this week, which means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. Gibbon
  2. Lemur
  3. Marmot
  4. Baboon

Length

  • 10 millimetres (0.39 in)
  • How many thorn bugs go into the length of the average thorn from a honey locust tree?
  • Hint: The tree is a deciduous tree that’s native to North America, especially states around the Mississippi River. 
  • 10 thorn bugs. Thorns can be 3–10 cm (1.2–3.9 in) long.

Egg Cluster Size

  • 100
  • How many thorn bug egg clusters go into the largest group of passenger pigeons ever recorded?
  • Hint: Passenger pigeons are a now extinct species of American pigeons, that were once so numerous in American skies that a flock could take hours to pass overhead. In 1866, a gathering was recorded as being a mile wide and 300 miles long. Hunting, deforestation, and other variables are said to have driven the bird to extinction.
  • 35 million clusters. The flock was estimated to be 3.5 billion members strong. 

Fast Facts about the Thorn Bug

  • Range: Lives on trees in the tropical and subtropical zones of southern North America and northern South America. If the temperature ever drops below 0, up to 90% of the population could die off.
  • Diet: they exclusively eat the sap inside the plants they hang out on

Major Fact: Nymph Defense System

The thorn bug is an attentive mom and, unlike some other bugs, watches over her brood in the nymph stage. Mothers will find an ideal host plant to lay her eggs in. She does this by carving out a groove in the stem of the plant and depositing eggs inside it. 

Moms may even sit on eggs like a chicken, in order to protect them from would-be predators. When eggs hatch, mothers will continue to protect the clutch of nymphs until they’re big enough to strike out on their own. 

Every time a predator approaches, it’s a gamble. Should the mother maintain the illusion that she is just a thorn, or should she attack and ward off the potential danger. The gamble is fairly high. If the mother breaks the illusion and fails to fight off the predator, the clutch survival rate drops from 53% to 27%.

In order to maximize intel about the potential threat, the nymphs will help by scanning the area. When they perceive a threat, they send out a chemical signal to the mother. But mom won’t attack unless all the nymphs send out a chemical report in unison. When one nymph sends out a signal, the next either immediately responds by lighting the beacons of Gondor or not. The brood essentially decides whether or not the mother should be deployed, based on the potential danger of the threat.

Once the mother is dispatched and returns without being dispatched from this mortal coil, she decides when the threat is over and calms the brood. 

If she goes the way of Bambi’s mother, the brood may be adopted by a nearby thorn bug mom. Though, combining clutches lowers the survival rate.

Large clutches can drain resources quickly. So much so as to stunt the growth of an entire tree or kill it outright. For that reason, very successful moms may produce many small thorn bugs. Small females may still have the chops to reproduce successfully like their mother before them. But small males struggle to compete for mates and food. This has led to a disparity in the ratio between the sexes with more females than male thorn bugs. 

Ending: So stick to your branch, keep an eye out for danger, and honor the chemically-induced vibration signals from your brood mother like the thorn bug here in LDT

Episode 157 – Blobfish: Blobby Fisher

“…and today we’re talking about a waterlogged football with eyes and a taste for shrimp. But more on that later.”

The blobfish might be the subject of cruel internet memes for many a year, but that digital ridicule may be unduly bestowed upon our deep-sea friend. He may look goofy, but that’s just because he’s far outside his natural habitat. Living at the bottom of the ocean, the blobfish actually has a pretty remarkable way of keeping it all together here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Blobfish

The blobfish are your typical fish shape with fin profile similar to a sea bass. Though the have more rounded fins. Their dorsal fins run down the length of their backs coming to a palm-shaped tail-fin. They also have broad elephant ear style pectoral fins.

Unlike a seabase, they have a large dome or bell-shaped head with a large mouth that’s positioned toward the bottom of their face. They also have large eyes that peer into the abyss of the sea, searching in vain for a scrap of light. 

They come in lighter pale colors like ashy grey to pale pink.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new Measure Up intro from Nora!

Length

  • 30 cm (12 in)
  • How many blobfish would it take to get from New Zealand’s South Island to the Antipodes Islands.
  • Hint: New Zealand is made up of more than 700 islands.
  • 1,848,000 blobfish. The Antipodes Islands are 350 miles from South Island.

Depth

  • 600 – 1,200 m (2,000 – 3,900 ft)
  • How many blobfish living depths go into the length of New Zealand along it’s north-north-east axis?
  • Hint: New Zealand is a long narrow country with two main islands. South Island has a spine of snow capped Alps that we’ve come to know and love in the Lord of the Rings. 
  • 1,346 blobfish. New Zealand is 1,600 kilometres (990 mi) long.

Fast Facts About the Blobfish

The blobfish troll the bottom of the ocean’s desolate rocky plains around the waters of Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania. 

The blobfish has the unique hunting style of sitting motionless while thinking about nothing at all. They’re covered in little protrusions that may help them look like coral or rocks and they just wait around pondering the same inquiries that a rock might. And just when the blobfish is about to forget it’s own existence to join the great multitude of ocean detritus, a piece of edible matter, usually in the form of a crustacean, sonters past its face and gets eaten. 

Another event that may disturb the blobfish’s dissociation might be an ocean trawling fishing vessel that catches the blobfish by mistake, though the acidic nature of blobfish flesh makes it unwanted bycatch for fishermen. 

The blobfish is thrown back, but not before the harsh lask or pressure of the surface turns them into that coveted ocean detritus. Now all that’s left is to sink to the sea floor, to feed the kin of the crabs the blobfish once zealously gobbled up. 

Major Fact: False Frumps

If you’ve spent any time on the internet, you’ve likely seen a picture of the blobfish. You’ve even likely seen a plush toy that looks like the blobfish. Good Mythical Morning called it the ugliest animal ever.

But the reality is that we don’t have any pictures of a blobfish in its natural state. This is because it lives almost 4,000 feet below the surface at 120 times the pressure at sea level. The only time we’ve ever really seen a blobfish is when they get caught in deep-sea fishermen’s nets and are brought to the surface.

Going from 120 atms to 1 does things to a living thing – what kind of things, you ask? Blob kinds of things.

Under Pressure

Living at such high pressures means that using a gas bladder for buoyancy like most fish wouldn’t be very effective. Instead, the blobfish’s body is made of a gelatinous material that is slightly less dense than the water around it. Rather than having a real skeleton, it uses the water around it as its own structural support.

Because of this, it can hover just above the ocean floor without having to swim. It doesn’t really have any muscle, so it’s pretty important that it doesn’t have to swim.

The side effect of this is that, while the water pressure keeps its jell-o body looking trim and slim like a normal-ish fish, not having that pressure means that the blobfish physically and mentally has a meltdown – making him look like a frumpy Jim Henson muppet.

Needless to say, all of the pictures we have of the blobfish are of dead blobfish that have basically meltploded.

On the flip side, this jelly body allows it to live and look like a regular fish in a place that would turn you into some sort of point of singularity.

Ending: So stay at your depth, keep your insides together, and have a cold bath like the blobfish here in LDT.

Episode 156 – Purple Frog: Born in the Storm

“…and today we’re talking about a frog with a secret underground life. But more on that later.”

The forests of India’s Western Ghats, are teaming with life. Many amphibian species live there, and many have only been discovered in the last few decades. As frogs hop from log to log and branch to branch, one species doesn’t see what all the fuss is about when it comes to life in the sun. The bizarre looking purple frog prefers the subterranean lifestyle and nothing could make them come out of their soft soiled homes. Well, nothing except one thing… But an offbeat lifestyle away from predators is just one of many strategies in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Description of the Purple Frog

  • This is a pretty weird looking frog
  • It looks like an inflated version of one of those puffed-up desert rain frogs
    • It just looks like it’s constantly holding its breath
  • Its body is bifurcated so there are two large puffed-up sections… kinda like a lil tush
  • It has smooth, slimy skin that’s a brownish-purplish color (some google images look pretty purple but on the whole it seems more brownish)
  • The head is short, squat and triangular – it kinda looks like a mole’s face
  • Its eyes are a lot smaller than most frogs’
  • There is also a ridge of skin extending from each eye to its pointy little nose. Plus there’s a ridge that extends out like a frown from below the nose.
    • So it looks like a star-nosed mole, but at certain angles it also looks like it has eye stalks like a slug.
  • Basically, it’s a frog, a star-nosed mole, and a soft-shelled turtle all rolled into one. It’s the platypus of amphibians.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new Measure Up intro from Mason!

Length

  • 52.8 mm to 89.9 mm
  • How many purple frogs go into India’s tallest waterfall?
  • Hint: Kunchikal falls is a cascading type, which means that it falls in stages, like a staircase. 
  • 5,061 frogs. The waterfall is 455 metres (1,493 ft).

Weight

  • 165 grams
  • How many frogs go into India’s largest animal, the indian elephant?
  • Hint: Indian elephants are smaller than African elephants and tend to live in jungle areas where their smaller size is an advantage.
  • 24,191 frogs. Indian elephants are 8,800 pounds (3,992 kg).

Fast Facts About the Purple Frog

  • Range: Small sliver slightly inland near the southwestern shore of India called the Palghat Gap. It lives in loose, damp soil at low elevations.
  • Diet: Mostly eats termites but will also eat other little insects and bugs
  • Behavior: Some local communities will make amulets out of these frogs and give them to children to reduce their fear of storms.

Major Fact: The Storm Born Frog

Purple frogs lead an interesting lifestyle in that they spend the vast majority of their life underground. Because of that, they’re very elusive. They were only first officially discovered in 2003, though the locals already knew about them and some papers described the species before 2003. They went undiscovered for a long time because they only come out when field scientists are cozied up by their lab computers to get out of the rain. 

Even now, much of their underground activities are unknown to researchers. It lives underground all year round except for when it emerges for two weeks out of the year to breed. Purple frogs come out during the monsoon season when rainfall increases. During that time, males call out to females over the din of waterfalls and rain. They only have two weeks to find a mate or their magic runs out and they can no longer be Santa Frog. 

Above ground, they look kind of weird. Their bloated little bodies and small heads make them look like a frog in a funhouse mirror. Their weird bodies are designed to burrow like a drill underground. Their pointed noses seem like they would be ideal for drilling into soft soil. Underground living isn’t new for frogs, but most of them burrow underground and emerge at night to feed. Not so with our purple friend. They feed entirely underground on a diet of mostly termites. They have a special buccal groove that helps them feed underground.

Tadpoles that are born in the rainy season are especially adapted to living in torrents and waterfalls. They have special mouths with keratinized teeth that allow them to cling to rocks. They use their mouths to climb up moist rock faces, especially near waterfalls. These weird teeth are continuously replaced like a shark’s. 

Ending: So go singing in the rain, burrow your way into obscurity, and help children overcome their fear of storms like the purple frog here in LDT

Episode 155 – White Rhino: Crash and the Birds

“…And today we’re talking about Marco Polo’s thick unicorn! But more on that later.”

Grazing along the African savannah, the white rhino keeps his ears peeled for the danger bird – despite not having many predators to worry about. When opportunity squawks, the rhino definitely listens. But the classic symbiotic relationship between the rhino the oxpecker may benefit the bird more than the mammal. But animals take what they can and give nothin’ back here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the White Rhino

  • White rhinos are large organic tanks with keratin horns coming out of their faces.
  • White rhinos have two horns with a larger horn in the front of the face and a smaller one directly behind it.
  • They have a hump on the backs of their necks and trunk like legs and feet. 
  • Unlike an elephant their feet flair out at the bottom like a bell, with three toes.
  • They have mouths that form a vague square shape.
  • They’re skin is leathery and think, contributing to it’s armored appearance. 
  • White rhinos can range in color from a yellowish brown to a dark grey.
  • They are said to have the widest set nostrils of any land animal. Olfactory systems in their brain are larger than the rest of their brain put together. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro so that means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. American Bison
  2. Wildebeest 
  3. Guar
  4. Nilgai

Length

  • 3.7 to 4 m (12.1 to 13.1 ft)
  • How many 1964 Hess Tanker Trailer replicas go into the length of a male rhino?
  • Hint: Hess started to sell replicas of their trucks in gas stations in 1964 as a thank you to their customers. The 1964 Hess Tanker Trailer was their first, modeled after the company’s first B61 Mack truck. Only 150,000 were made and if you have one in excellent condition today, it could go for $2,000.
  • 13.1 trucks. The trucks are 12 inches.

Weight

  • 2,300 kg (5,070 lb)
  • How many Rhinos go into a Mack Granite heavy duty truck’s maximum loaded weight?
  • Hint: Loaded weight refers to the weight that is transferred to the road from a fully-loaded vehicle’s axle. The federal limit of gross weight on a federal road is 80,000 lbs.
  • 18 Rhinos. The mack granite’s max load is 92,000 pounds (42,000 kg).

Fast Facts about the White Rhino

The white rhino is a herbivore graser, which means it has a lifestyle kind of like a cow, looking for tasty grass and plants to eat. They spend about half the day eating and a third of it resting, leaving four hours for fun stuff like mating, rolling in mud holes, and video games.

Grown males prefer the company of their own thoughts and spend most of their time alone, pondering the universe. Adolescents will hang out with one another and with adult females. These groups can be as large as 14 members.

Rhinos have good hearing and even better smell but they don’t have great eyesight. Something moving silently from downwind could sneak up on a rhino. An activity I wouldn’t recommend. But to prevent this, rhinos allow Oxpecker birds to sit on their backs, eating flies and parasites that may bother the rhino. They also act as an alarm system when danger approaches. 

Females reach maturity around age 6 but they can only date older boys, because it takes males between 10 and 12 years to reach maturity. Little unborn rhinos take about 16 months to gestate. Newborn calves can weigh up to 140 pounds.

Major Fact: Scaredy Crash

Rhinos are big, fierce, and heavily armored. They’re the second-largest land animals on the planet. They have huge, sharp horn-like appendages coming out of their faces. And they have 2-inch thick armored skin. They have no natural predators, which is surprising because even elephants have to deal with lions. But I imagine the baby rhinos get gobbles. So you’d think that these guys would be able to saunter across the savannah with confidence right? The reality is that they’re pretty easily spooked.

Rhinos have really good hearing. Their ears can almost turn the full 360 degrees around their heads. 

But they have pretty poor eyesight. If they’re startled, they’ll either run away or just charge the thing they think is after them–even if it’s just a bush or a tree.

They also make use of that rare jewel in the animal kingdom: cooperation! (interspecies cooperation, that is) symbiosis. There’s a bird they befriend called an oxpecker. They perch on the backs of rhinos as they graze. The oxpeckers get a free meal of ticks and other parasites that can latch onto the rhino. Also, there aren’t any animals that would try and nab a bird sitting on a rhino’s back.

The rhino gets a nice skin cleaning, but what it really wants is the bird’s natural alarm system. If the oxpecker spots danger, it will tweet. Then the rhino just wildly mauls the bush or runs away. The oxpecker is called “askari wa kifaru” in Swahili which means “the rhino’s guard.” But you probably already knew that.

But this famous symbiotic relationship may be more parasitic than you thought. Ticks suck…literally. All of them do – but the oxpecker actually likes to eat rhino blood, so it only eats the fat ones.

It’s selective and self-serving. In fact, it’s main food source is rhino blood. The bird will also find infected or infested wounds on the rhino and eat any larvae or parasites living there. But it will also eat the scabs and open the wound even more.

Ending: So armor up, sharpen your horn-like appendages, and keep helpful birds on your shoulder like the white rhino here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 154 – Pygmy Hedgehog: The Adorable Pincushion

“…Today we’re talking about a prickly bush pig, though it’s not a pig at all. But more on that later.”

The cutest and most mild mannered animals often find themselves in the pet trade. But in the wild world of woodland creatures, cute doesn’t get you very far. For those creatures that tread the line between those two worlds, not fully domestic but harmless enough to live in homes, they may exhibit some behaviors that baffle their human household companions. These holdovers from their wild-kin show us a picture of their life in the wild. The adorable pygmy hedgehog may have some behaviors not dignified in civilized company, though they are vital for their survival in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Pygmy Hedgehog

  • It’s the classic adorable poke mouse that teenagers like to keep curled up in their oversized sweaters
  • It has an oval-shaped body with a tiny mousy face and little mousey people hands
    • However, it only has four toes on its hind legs instead of five, which is what most other hedgehogs have
  • It has beady black eyes and a little snout with small, rounded ears.
  • But it’s defining characteristic is the sheet of spikes that cover its back
    • We’ve done the spiked tenrec before, but take those spikes and double them.
  • The quills on the back are a mottled brown and cream mix while the underside is usually cream-colored. The snout is brownish-greyish

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro so that means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. Frog
  2. Turtle
  3. Mouse
  4. Hedgehog

Length

  • 5 and 12 inches (13 and 30 cm)
  • How many hedgehogs go into the deepest dive into Boesmansgat, a cave in South Africa, also called Bushman’s Hole.
  • Hint: The cave is a submerged freshwater sinkhole that is thought to be first explored in modern times in 1977. The deepest recorded dive was achieved by scuba diver Nuno Gomes in 1996. The dive is tough because the hole starts at an altitude of 1,500 metres (4,921 ft) and complicated decompression. 
  • 972 hedgehogs. The dive was 282.6 metres (927 ft). When Gomes reached the bottom of the hole, he got stuck in the mud for two minutes before freeing himself.

Weight

  • 14 and 39 ounces (400 and 1,110 g)
  • How many hedgehogs go into the heaviest pig in history?
  • Hint: The pig was named Big Bill, and he was a Poland-China breed. He was owned by a man named Elias Buford Butler and made record weight in Jackson, Tennessee in 1933.
  • 1,046.9 hedgehogs The pig weighed 1,157 kg (2,552 lb).

Fast Facts About the Pygmy Hedgehog

Range:

  • They’re all over the world as pets, but they’re native to a belt stretching across central Africa from Sierra Leone all the way to Somalia and Tanzania. From sea to pirate sea.
  • It loves grassy fields, open woodlands at low elevations. It prefers dry, warm places.

Diet:

  • Bugs, grubs, snails, spiders, some plants, and even scorpions and snakes (it has a high tolerance for toxins)

Behavior:

  • Since it likes warm climates, it will go into estivation (rest, low metabolism) when it gets cooler and even hibernate when it gets really cold.
  • Sonic is nocturnal and usually spends its nights hunting alone
  • It has some tenacious predators including the eagle-owl, jackal, and the honey badger

Major Fact: Sticky Spines or Something

Hedgehogs have 5,000 spines that are made of keratin, the stuff hair, nails, and mammal horns are made of. They’re nearly hollow, though not as hollow as bones. Muscles on the hedgehog’s back allow them to smooth down their spines or make them stand up when they feel threatened. These semi-hollow spines are light but strong, acting as a pointy deterrent to predators. They don’t release barbed quills like a porcupine, but most predators would think twice about putting a spike ball down their throats.

You may have seen these adorable pincushions floating on their backs in bath tubs. They have a unique ability to do this because air pockets in the spines can turn their back into a little boat. In domestic life it serves the function of looking super cute. In the wild, I bet that ability comes in pretty handy in floods and puddles.

But that’s not the end of interesting stuff they do with their spines. They’ve also been known to practice something called self-anointing. No, they don’t declare themselves king by divine right, it means they rub aromatic substances all over their bodies. 

When they find a particularly strong smelling substance, they will shew it up and mix it into their own saliva until it’s a foamy liquid. Then they’ll spread the substance all over their spines. It’s not 100 percent clear why they do that, but the main theory is that it’s a defense mechanism. They’ve been observed doing this with bad tasting, pungent, or irritating substances like tobacco, soap, and fecal matter. Ostensibly, this would add to the aversion to eating a hedgehog. 

They also do this with poisonous substances like toxins found on frog skin. It’s possible that poisonous frogs are the main reason they developed this practice. However, hedgehog pet owners may be confused because they have also been observed doing this with food like dog treats and other things they might enjoy eating. However, it may be behavior born from a genetic instinct. Hedgehogs as young as 15 days old have been seen doing this using substances they find on their mother’s spines. 

Thanks

Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube

Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.

Thank you to Nora who suggested the pygmy hedgehog!

Episode 153 – Blanket Octopus: Let the Octopus Win

“…Today we’re talking about a cephalopod that wears a beautiful gown. But more on that later.”

The ocean is home to many a strange and wondrous creature, but few are so strange as the blanket octopus. Worthy of its name, the blocktopus drifts and flutters with dazzling colors across the pelagic seas. But unfurling your snuggie has consequences in the deep blue, so the blanket octopus needs to have some improvised weapons at its disposal. But that’s just how you survive here in LDT.

Description of the Blanket Octopus

The blanket octopus has a high degree of sexual dimorphism in terms of size and look. They both have the typical octopus head and arm shape with arms growing to double their total length. Males have one longer arm, but more on that later.

Four of the eight female legs are webbed and that webbing can be longer than the length over her body.

Like other octopuses, they come in many colors and can change colors for camouflage. 

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a new Measure Up intro so that means we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is.

  1. Alpaca
  2. Deer
  3. Llama
  4. Camel

Female Length

  • 2 meters
  • How many female octopuses go into the length of a galleon?
  • Hint: The São João Baptista, also called the Botafogo, was a portuguese war ship which was considered the biggest in the world at the time in the 16th century. The ship is famous for its bombardment of the La Goletta, in the conquest of Tunis in 1535.
  • 24.3 blanket octopuses. Galleons were around 160 feet for 500 tons. The Botafogo was 1,000 tons.

Male Length

  • 2.4 cm
  • How many male octopuses go into the automobile mileage record?
  • Hint: The record is held by Irvin Gordon, of Long Island, in a 1966 Volvo P1800. A retired teacher, he bought the car in 1966 for $4,150. He loves to drive and said he would drive to Montreal or Maine just for dinner. He said the car has never broken down or failed to start because he followed care directions like changing the oil after certain mileage. Gordon predicted that the car would outlast him in the summer before his death in 2018.
  • 217,949,233,392 octopuses. Gordon drove the car 3,250,257 miles.

Fast Facts about the Blanket Octopus

The reason for the vast difference in size between the males and females is reproduction. Larger females that can carry more large eggs. Large eggs eliminate the threat from small egg thieves and larger numbers of eggs increase the chance that some will make it to adulthood. 

While most octopuses start as tiny plankton that travel with the currents until they get big enough to settle down on the ocean floor, in reefs, or among rocks, blankets continue to wander the seas into adulthood.

Forsaking the shelter of rock caves comes with its dangers. Sea nomads are vulnerable to predation from the large animals that dominate the open ocean, including dolphins, blue sharks, billfish, orcas, and tuna. However, the blanket boys and girls know it’s dangerous to go alone and take a few defense mechanisms. Like Linus, females never leave home without their trusty blanket. They’re webbed arms can drag behind them like the flowing train of a gown, increasing their appearance of their size. Small predators need not apply.

The blanket can be rolled up and suddenly unfurled for maximum jump scare potential. But if a predator is not threatened by this caped crusader, she can do something else with it. Evidence suggests that they can detach the blanket like a lizard’s tail to confuse and placate attackers. This skill is in addition to other octopus-style defenses like ink sacks and color changing skin.

Major Fact: Let the Blanket Octopus Win

Octopuses are famous for their methods of defending themselves. Some use camouflage, most use ink, others even mimic their enemies. But the chewbacctopus has a penchant for ripping arms out of sockets.

It uses arms in two different ways.

First, the males—those poor tiny little fellas—to reproduce, they’ll put their “genetic material” into a specialized arm called a hectocotylus and rips it off to give to the female. She can then use it to fertilize her eggs at her leisure.

Second, the females will find Portugese man o’ wars (men o’ war?) and rip off their arms. They’re actually immune to man o’ war venom, so they’ll use those arms as defensive weapons.

It will attack man o’ war arms its four dorsal arms. Researchers aren’t sure if chewbacctopus uses the arms for offense as well. It could use the man o’ war venom to catch prey.

Ending: So spread your blankets, use arms to your advantage, and save your hectocotylus for someone special like chewbacctopus here in LDT.

Thanks

Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube

Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.

Episode 152 – Pacific Hagfish: Sticky Business

“…And today we’re talking about a sea noodle that’s as disgusting as we’ve come to expect from the bottom of the ocean.”

Imagine you’re a big fish with a hankering for some ocean detritus. You find a carcass that’s descended to the seafloor, but you’re late to the party. It’s surrounded by a nightmare mob of tangled noodles making quick work of the body. But no matter, you’ll just take one of these noodles for your supper. But it’s not a noodle. It’s a pacific hagfish, and with your first bite, you know you’ve made a huge mistake. But surprising defensive tactics are essential in the sea, especially if you seek success in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Pacific Hagfish

  • Basically an eel/worm/snake with a wide, flat tail. 
  • They are actually cartilaginous fish (like sharks) and have a skeleton that is comprised of a skull and nothing else. 
    • Pacific hagfish are actually the only animals that have a skull and no spine. Though apparently, it has “rudimentary vertebrae”, which is why it’s still in the phylum Chordata, though that’s up for debate.
  • While it has a skull, the pacific hagfish doesn’t have a jaw. Instead, they have four teeth attached to ligaments that they can pull food into their mouths with. 
  • It also has a pair of basic eyespots that can perceive light rather than eyes that can see images (you don’t really need to see much when you’re 3K feet below the surface.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. 

Length

  • 63 cm (25 in)
  • How many Declarations of Independence go into the length of a hagfish?
  • Hint: The declaration was written by Thomas Jefferson, but it was the work of the Committee of Five which also included John Adams, Ben Franklin, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston. 
  • 1.2. The declaration is 30 x 24.

Weight

  • 3 lb (1.4kg)
  • How many hagfish go into the weight of a gallon of water?
  • Hint: Water is commonly used to weight things, including certain types of medicine balls.
  • 2.7 hagfish. 

Fast Facts About the Hagfish

  • Range: The absolute bottom of the Pacific Ocean, in some of the deepest places on Earth. Specifically, this slimy boy lives in the Eastern portion of the Pacific, so along North America’s coast.
  • Diet: They mainly eat bristle worms at the bottom of the ocean. But they also are opportunistic scavengers that will slip into dead fish or animals whose bodies fell to the ocean floor and eat them. 
    • They can survive for months without food since their metabolism is so low.
    • They’ll actually tear apart the catch of deep-sea fishermen before they can drag their nets back up. 
  • Behavior: There are actually far more females than males in many hagfish species. Some species have a 100:1 ratio of females to males. But there is some evidence that they can be hermaphroditic like some gastropods. 
  • It’s tough to study these guys in captivity since they don’t do well outside of the crushing pressure of Davy Jones locker.

Major Fact: It’s Sticky! What is it!?

The Pacific hagfish has several interesting facts that could be considered major. Its horrifying maw is one of them. But, as with many creatures, the true oddity lies not in its offense but its defense. 

The hagfish is covered in tiny little pores like portholes on a submarine. From these holes, emerges a thick mucus slime. The hagfish releases this slime when it’s threatened or agitated, and especially when it seems like it might become lunch. When it’s threatened, it can instantly release copious amounts of the viscous substance. In minutes, even a small hagfish can fill your standard Home Depot bucket. 

They do this by releasing proteins that coat their bodies in slime when they come into contact with water. They also expand into a huge slime cloud around them. 

There’s a video of this occurring where researchers place bait and a camera in hagfish territory. The hagfish come in for a snack and sharks and eels come to snack on the hagfish. One exploratory bite causes the predator to recoils, dropping the fish and leaving. 

The slime isn’t noxious or poisonous, but it’s detested by predators. A predator with a mouth full of slime can have its throat or gills clogged by the viscous liquid. The slime is clingy, and fishermen loathe to have it attached to gear. So it’s not something you want in your gills. 

Ending: So work under pressure, keep your eyespots peeled, and use slime to your advantage like you just won a Kid’s Choice Award like the hagfish here in LDT.

Episode 151 – Platypus: Defying its Stars

“…and today we’re talking about a creature that looks like it specced into every skill tree. But more on that later.”

In the land down under, there’s dwelleth a strange mammal that looks like an otter that glued a bunch of other animal parts onto its body. The platypus is famous not only for its odd look, but also for its odd behavior. But bills and tails aren’t the only trick the platypus has picked up. It also has some offensive and defensive traits that make it the most interesting animal in the world. But that’s just how you survive in Australia here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

A platypus has one of the most infamous looks in the animal kingdom. These duck-billed beavers look like a hybrid animal from the world of Avatar the Last Airbender. It is so weird, when Europeans first saw drawings of it in the 18th century, they thought it was a hoax.

  • The platypus has a river mammal’s body like a beaver or otter with thick, dense fur to wick off moisture and glide through the water.
  • Also, like a beaver, they have broad flat tails that aid in swimming.
  • All four of their paws are broad and webbed like a beaver’s back paws.
  • The strangest part may be their bills, which are broad and help them root around on river beds for food.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We have a new measure up intro this week from Honey Badger, and this time he brought a buddy.

Length

  • Males average 50 cm (20 in)
  • How many Platypuses go into the height of the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia?
  • Hint: The current parliament house has been in use since 1988. Before that the Australian government had decided to build a temporary house to be used for 50 years. It ended up being used for 61 years. 
  • 210.6. The Parliament House is 107 metres (351 feet) tall.

Weight

  • 0.7 to 2.4 kg (1 lb 9 oz to 5 lb 5 oz)
  • How many kiwi eggs go into the weight of a platypus? 
  • Hint: Kiwi eggs are the largest proportional to body size for any bird. The egg takes up a huge amount of space in the tiny bird’s body cavity and comes out much larger than a chicken egg.
  • 8 eggs. Kiwi eggs are 300 grams.

Fast Facts about the Platypus

Platypus live in eastern Australia and in Tasmania. They prefer lands with waterways like streams and rivers that support their semi aquatic lifestyle. 

The look of a platypus isn’t where it stops being a strange collection of animal traits. It’s also one of only  four living monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs. Platypuses lay two or three already fertilized eggs at a time. Though they have a bill like a duck, their eggs are soft leathery like a reptile. They incubate inside their mother for 28 days and only incubate outside for about 10. 

When hunting they close their eyes and rely on other senses to locate their target like a jedi. Their broad bill snouts actually have soft sensitive skin on the end that can feel for subtle signs of prey. They eat worms, larvae, shrimp, and crayfish.

Major Fact: Spurred to Action

As we’ve mentioned, and as you probably already know, the platypus, is a weird animal. Despite laying eggs, having a duck bill, webbed feet, mole fur, and a beaver tail, there are a few other tricks it has up its sleeve. 

The first comes down to the infamous cowboy basketball team – the spurs. Male platypuses have little spikes on their hind duck feet that inject a protein-based venom into would-be attackers (most likely rival males). This venom is unique to platypuses and is strong enough to kill small to medium-sized animals. It will also cause excruciating pain in humans–enough to incapacitate. It causes fluid retention in and near the wound and can cause you to become extra sensitive to pain for months afterward.

The second trick Perry has is electrolocation – the ability to use electricity to locate prey. Sharks are famous for having electrolocation, as they can sense the electrical fields generated when a muscle contracts. So flailing or struggling fish pop up on their radar.

The platypus actually has these electroreceptors in their duck bill, and it uses that bill to dig around at the bottom of lakes and streams. It actually closes its eyes, ears, and nose, whenever it’s underwater so it completely relies on electricity to eat – like me since I’m a microwave dinner kinda guy.

On a final note, the platypus will also glow if you shine a blacklight on it, as though it weren’t weird enough.

Ending: So close your eyes, take a dive, and become the greatest-hits album of the animal kingdom like Joe, Steve, Katy, Matthew Perry the Platypus here in LDT.

Thanks

Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube


Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.

Episode 150 – Spider-Tailed Horned Viper: The Crafty Serpent

“And today we’re talking about something we were supposed to talk about a few weeks ago but we goofed and now we’re talking about it now. More on that now.”

Hunters have all kinds of methods to help catch their prey. There’s ambushing, stalking, and brute force. But one of the most clever ways may be luring. Snakes are usually predators of the ambush varieties, though they’ll engage in a stalking or two. But one dessert viper has been known to employ a lure that would make the most experienced fishermen blush. But anatomical trickery may be the key to this serpent’s survival in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper

  • We did the horned viper not too long ago and the spider-tail looks very similar, with some titular differences.
  • It’s a short-ish, thick-ish snake with very spiky scales. Kinda looks like jackfruit skin. Like a paw paw, or a prickly pear–so don’t pick a raw paw and next time, beware. 
  • It has the characteristic wide, triangular head of a viper with a series of scales that form devilish horns above the eyes.
  • The eyes are yellowish-tan and have those vertical cat pupils
  • Spidey’s scales have a base tan with some brown sun spots patterned down the length of its body.
  • Like all vipers, spidey has a pair of sharp fangs that act like hypodermic needles to inject venom into its prey.
  • And like all snakes, it can “unhinge” its jaw to swallow prey several times larger than its head. Though they don’t actually “unhinge” or “dislocate” their jaws since they were never hinged in the first place. They’re attached by stretchy ligaments instead.
  • Other than that, there’s nothing else to say about its appearance. Completely normal and boring snake tail.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We don’t have a Measure Up intro this week. That means, we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is. 

Length

  • 531 mm (20 inches)
  • How many vipers go into Mount Damavand, the tallest mountain in Iran?
  • Hint: The mountain is significant in Persion mythology and folklore and it’s depicted on Iran’s 10,000 rials banknote.
  • 11,041.8 snakes. The mountain is 5,609.2 m (18,403 ft) tall.

Weight

  • The persian horned viper, another snake in the genus, is about 500 g (1.1 lb).
  • How many snakes go into the world’s heaviest bird, the ostrich?
  • Hint: The ostrich can be up to nine feet tall. 
  • 254.5 snakes. A male ostrich can be up to 280 pounds. 

Fast Facts About the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper

  • Diet: It loves to eat birds. That’s all I’ll say
  • Behavior: It has a strike of 0.2 seconds, accelerating at up to 28 Gs. Vipers used to be considered as having the fastest strike, but that title is now held by the Texas rat snake according to the University of Louisiana.
  • Has a pretty limited range of just western Iran. So it loves dry, arid, desert-like, brushland with lots of rocky areas and caves to hide in.

Major Fact: False Promises

If you find yourself hiking in a middle eastern desert only to find a spider doing figure eights on a nearby rock, resist the urge to go and pet it. That’s no spider. It’s a moon… as in a backside… of a snake.

It’s a snake’s tail. Like rattlesnakes, the spider-tailed horned viper’s body comes to an interesting ending. Their tails sport more than just your typical tip. These horned vipers have a spikey looking body that ends in an even spikier tail. 

Looking at it while it’s motionless, the tip of the viper’s tail looks several spikes pointed outward, ending in a bulbous tip. It looks like some exotic fruit is this snake’s butt ornament. 

But when it starts moving it like an expert fly fisherman back and forth, it looks like some insect frantically moving about. Even me, a big-brained human with color vision can’t help but see it as some arthropod skittering around on a rock. 

The viper has a taste for that sweet sweet air candy. Birds are their preferred meal and other snakes may have trouble scoring such a poultry prize. But the spider-tailed viper has a two-part tantalizing tactic. 

First of all, they have excellent camouflage, both their coloration and the texture of their skin makes them blend into rocky desert environments. They set up base camp in insectivorous bird territory and wait for a hapless victim.  

Next, they expose their tail and rack it along the ground as if it’s a spider crawling on the rock, exposed to birdly predation. 

The birds, who are desperately trying to feed their chicks, can’t help but go after every arthropod they can manage to bring back. I saw a video of a bird that was so enamored with the tail and so blind to the body that it landed on the snake’s head. The snake moved slightly, which startled the bird. Still, the bird took the bait so relentlessly that she repositioned and went after the spider-tail again, only to be snatched by the viper’s venomous fangs.

Ending: So curl up under a rock, stick your tail out, and lure your prey with a tasty morsel like the spider-tailed horned viper here in LDT.

Episode 149 – Bottlenose Dolphin: Thanks for all the Fish

“…and today we’re talking about one of the most famous sea animals of all time. The white hat to the black hat of the great white shark. Though, PR can be deceiving. But more on that later…”

When life kicks mud in your face, most of us, and most animals, would give up or bemoan our misfortune. But the bottlenose dolphin is smarter than that. It takes that mud and makes some lemonade, which isn’t a great material to make lemonade out of. But it gets the job done when it comes to tricking a bunch of fish to jump directly into your open jaws. But that’s just how the bottlenose snatches up its supper here in LDT

Description of the Bottlenose Dolphin

This is the dolphin. The one you know. The grey smiling torpedo of the lagoon. We’re talking the cylindrical nose that widens to a submarine-shaped head, adorned with two gentle monocular eyeballs.

These greybies have two pectoral flippers and a dorsal fin that’s located toward the middle of their backs. Their bodies tapper to a horizontal tail. Their blow holes are located on top of their heads for easy breathing access.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. 

Length

  • 4 meters (13 feet)
  • How many of the largest bottles of wine go into the length of a bottlenose dolphin?
  • Hint: The largest bottle of wine is a german bottle that holds an Austrian “100 Days Zweigelt” red wine. The bottle was presented at a Chinese restaurant in Austria in 2017, where it was meant to age for several more years before being auctioned off. However, temperature problems caused the wine to expand, spilling 230 liters onto the floor.
  • 1.3 bottles. The bottle was 9.8 feet high.

Weight

  • 300 kg (660 pounds)
  • How many Atlantic herring would a dolphin have to eat to eat it’s weight in herring?
  • Hint: Atlantic herring are bigger than both Pacific and Baltic herring. And if you’re wondering, “Herring?! I thought they ate fish!” I’d say to you, “Fievel. Herring are fish!” 
  • 440 herring. Atlantic herring are 700 g (1.5 lb).

Fast Facts about the Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose dolphins are found in temperate to tropical waters all over the world, but they generally stay out of the arctic and antarctic zones. There are both inshore and offshore populations with some subtle physical variations between them. 

These happy go lucky sea bros like to eat eels, squid, shrimp, and all manner of fish. Despite their formidable set of teeth, they prefer to swallow prey whole. They locate prey with echolocation, which is similar to SONAR. High pitched sounds are emitted that bounce off prey and tell dolphins where they are. 

They can also use sounds for communication as well as body language, like slapping the water or breaching. 

Dolphins breed in the spring mostly. Males form roving bands of lady seekers to find suitable mates. When located, they separate her from her home rains. Females can bear caves every three to six years, ensuring they never have the dreaded two under two. 

In the wild, dolphins live for about 17 years, but they can live up to 51 years in captivity. 

Sharks avoid dolphins because they bully them. Pods attack and kill sharks when they find them. Their group tactics and superior maneuverability make them formidable to a single shark. They use up and down tactics which their horizontal tail fins allow them to dominate shark mobility. They’ll ram shark bellies and gills until they die or flee.

Because of their relative intelligence, dolphins display some human-esque tendencies including sophisticated social structures and large brain to body ratio. Intelligence tests found they are not only capable of solving complex novel tasks, they were able to complete novel tasks that required cooperation. They can also associate visual symbols with an action they already know. Like assigning a written word to an object. Self-recognition in mirrors is inconclusive, so they may or may not be self-aware.

Though bottlenose dolphins are listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, they can be threatened by things like marine pollution and tuna fishing. 

Major Fact: So Long and Thanks for all the Fish

So it’s no secret that dolphins are unusually intelligent animals. They have complex social relationships and even a language. But some of the best examples of their smarts comes from their problem-solving. Not just solving problems… improving on solutions

Bottlenose dolphins in the brackish estuaries of Florida have developed a unique way of catching fish.

The estuaries are usually shallow and filled with silt, which kicks up as the dolphins swim.

Other dolphins would see this lack of visibility as a hindrance, but the bottlenose uses it to 10x his lead gen efforts.

What is Mud-Ringing?

A group of bottlenoses will use a technique known as mud-ringing to have the fish literally jumping into their mouth – like when Jesus showed Peter a thing or two about fishing.

So when a small team of dolphins finds a school of fish to munch on, one dolphin will swim in a circle around the school, brushing its fluke along the silt-covered floor to create an actual ring of mud. The circle is almost perfect every time too.

When the circle is done, the fish will swim away from the dolphin that made the ring, but once the fish encounter the mud wall, rather than just swim through it, they’ll try to jump over it–directly into the open mouths of the team waiting just on the outside of the ring.

This is unique because other dolphins and even bottlenoses that don’t live in estuaries don’t use this technique – I mean, why would they?

So that means that they learned this technique. In fact, there are videos of mothers teaching their calves how to make mud rings. 

The Disney Nature documentary shows them enjoying the shower of fish in slow motion and it reminded me of the opening scene from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Ending: So get together with your friends, find a sizable school of delicious mackerel, and if you like it, put a mud ring on it like the bottlenose dolphin here in LDT.

Thanks

Thank you to Casy for creating our theme song. To hear more of Casy’s music search Casy Michelle on Youtube

Thank you to Brian for creating the episode art. See more of Brian’s art at xNamaru on Instagram or Twitter.