Episode 99 – Pallas Cat: Mr. Whisples

And today we’re talking about a wide eyed and expressive cat! But more on that later!

They may look like your average domestic feline on the surface. But a closer look will reveal some odd features. Thick fur, short stubby ears, and rotund bodies, give away that this particular Himalayan cat isn’t your typical tabby. But there’s something else. Maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but they seem so… expressive. Their relatable facial expressions have made them internet sensations, but there’s a reason humans might look into these big yellow eyes and find them relatable. But what makes their faces so intriguing? Find out in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Measure Up

Welcome to Measure Up, leading candidate for best part of the show, a title to be officially determined by you on December 3rd on Twitter and Facebook. This is 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 no new intros this week, so that means I get to play an animal sound and Carlos will guess what it is! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZdGXhH9aDsk

Body length

  • 46 to 65 cm (18 to 26 in)
  • 26 inches
  • How many pallas cats go into the highest altitude (7,200 ft) in Khojir National Park in Iran, which is part of the pallas cat’s range?
  • Hint: The park has a number of unique species of flora including the persion pistachio tree and the wild almond.
  • Answer: 3,323 cats

Weight

  • 2.5 to 4.5 kg (5.5 to 9.9 lb)
  • 9 pounds
  • The world record for the most garlic cloves eaten in one sitting was achieved by Deepak Sharma Bajagain in 2009 in Kathmandu. How many units of the total weight of the garlic he ate go into a pallas cat?
  • Hint: Garlic cloves can range from 4 to 45 grams, but the average is around 16 grams.
  • Answer: 7 (He ate 34 cloves)

Major Fact

  • The Pallas’ cat has a pair of eyes that are different from your cat at home. 
  • Instead of the characteristic slitted pupils, their pupils are round.
  • These large round eyes may be what people find so interesting about their funny facial expressions on the internet. 
  • But why do these cats deviate from the ocular norm?
  • Pupils come in a variety of shapes in the animal kingdom.
    • Goats have square pupils, Crocodiles and jagged slits, and cuttlefish have wave pupils. 
    • In all of these cases, the pupil functions to allow light to enter eyes in order to help creatures see.
    • Iris’s can make the pupils larger and smaller depending on the amount of light around you.
    • There is a lot of debate as to the advantage of different pupil shapes.
    • But one thing seems to be clear, it’s based on lifestyle more than taxonomy.
    • Animals all over the kingdom have slit pupils including reptiles, cats, canines, and even birds.
    • Same with round vision.
  • So why do most cats have vertical slit pupils?
    • Many of the animals with slit pupils are nocturnal or crepuscular.
    • They are mostly predators, which means they end up hunting in the light of dusk to the dark of night.
    • These extremely variable light conditions need extremely variable eyes.
    • One theory is that slit vision allows pupils to expand larger and shrink smaller than round pupils. 
    • However, little weirdos like the tarsier, which are tiny primates, shows that round pupils can shrink and grow to extremes. Plus, they are the only completely carnivorous primates. So they fit the slit pupil lifestyle.
    • Another possibility is the way slit eyes allow animals to see more color in low light. 
    • Predators often rely on color to contrast prey with its environment.
    • But why doesn’t the tarsier or the pallas cat need low light color?
  • Well, the tarsier has something that slit pupil animals don’t have. An arboreal lifestyle.
    • Most slit pupil animals are small or low to the ground. House cats and foxes have slits and they are ground hunters. 
    • Crocodiles hunt by peering over the surface of the water to the banks of rivers. 
    • I mentioned a bird before, but it’s a specific type of bird that has slits: skimmers, that fly along coastlines and waterways picking fish off the surface of the water.
    • Tarsiers hop from tree to tree collecting bugs and lizards. They need to see far, and it turns out that slit eyes aren’t great for long vision.
    • Cats with round pupils include cheetahs and leopards. Their larger and chase down or stalk prey they spot in the distance.
    • Pallas cats are the same size as house cats. But they hunt on mountains and on rocky terrain. They also spend most of their time hunting during the day.
    • All this to say, the pallas’ cat’s unique environment and lifestyle has given us a unique little predator with an adorable face.

Episode 98 – Narwhal: The Sea Unicorn

“And today we’re talking about a whale with a rostrum for adventure! But more on that later!”

Way high up in the frigid arctic waters swims what many would consider to be a mythical creature: a unicorn. No, not a white horse with a horn sticking out of its head, but a whale with a similar facial characteristic. But what is this horn used for? Fighting, hunting, swimming? You’ll just have to listen and find out here on Life Death and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 98 – Narwhal: The Sea Unicorn

Episode 97 – Mary River Turtle: The Punk Rock Respirator

“And today we’re talking about a turtle that does what it wants because it’s punk rock.”

Turtles enjoy the aquatic lifestyle, eating algae, river plants, and fish. But, unlike those fish that are privileged with water-breathing gills, turtles must make trips to the surface to breathe. But one Australian turtle species with a punk rock style goes against the grain with its respiration. But to join this counter-cultural genre of gas exchange, it has to adopt a bizarre style of breathing. But sometimes an awkward adaptation is enough to give you an edge in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 97 – Mary River Turtle: The Punk Rock Respirator

Episode 96 – Cape Buffalo: Revenge on the Range

“And today we are talking about beefiest boys in the bovine brotherhood. But bore on that later.”

Clutching his rifle in his hand, veteran British big game hunter Owain Lewis made his way through the dense brush of Zimbabwe, carefully tracking an injured cape buffalo that had been shot three days earlier by an American visiting hunter who had failed to finish it off. With the task now falling to him and his hunting apprentice, it all comes down to a game of cat and mouse. But who’s the cat, and who’s the mouse? We’ll find out here in LDT.

Description

  • The cape buffalo is a large thick bodied bovine with black curved horns.
  • Ther look like a typical brown cow with short hair.
  • The tops of their skulled are a thick keratin that curve downward and then back up into horns like a composite bow.
  • Their heads hang lower than their backs, unlike deer and horses which carrier there heads high.
  • Males have brown to black coats whereas females may have more red in their coats.
  • Cape buffalos are native to African forests and plains. The caffer subspecies is the most familiar and live on the savannah but there’s also forest subspecies like nanus which is smaller and has more reddish fur.

Measure Up

Welcome to Measure Up, leading candidate for best part of the show, a title to be officially determined by you on December 3rd on Twitter and Facebook. This is 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 no new intros this week, so that means I get to play an animal sound and Carlos will guess what it is! Answer: Koala

Shoulder height

  • 1.0 to 1.7 m (3.3 to 5.6 ft)
  • 5.6 feet
  • How many buffalos go into the height of the tallest building in Africa (234 metres (770 ft)), which is the Leonardo in Sandton, South Africa?
  • Hint: The building was started in November 2015 and officially became the tallest building in April of this year.
  • Answer: 137.5

Weight

  • 500 to 1,000 kg (1,100 to 2,200 lb)
  • 2,200 lbs
  • How many of the world’s largest buffalo wing (1,037 lbs) in Madeira Beach, FL go into a cape buffalo?
  • Hint: It’s not a real chicken wing. It’s a drumstick replica that hangs from a photo op sign at a dockside Hooters. A sign warns patrons not to climb on the wing in nine languages.
  • Answer: 2.1

Fast facts

  • They have fairly typical herd hierarchies with dominant males controlling high-born females and their offspring.
  • The core herd is surrounded by subherds which are composed of high ranking males and females, subordinate males, and old or injured adults. 
  • Young males stay away from the dominant male.
  • Males spar in friendly competitions where they might rub their faces together and practice fighting.
  • Real fights are rare but violent and bloody. 
  • They are grazers and eat mostly grass in swamps and floodplains.
  • They drink water every day which puts them in danger of crocodile predation.
  • Other than crocodiles, they are sometimes hunted by lions, but they can defend themselves and aren’t easy prey.
  • They may even defend each other and present a united front against predators. 
  • However, lions can pick of injured, old, and sick animals. 
  • But they are also capable of engaging in the democratic process.
    • Female buffaloes move together.
    • This helps them avoid being picked off by predators, and it helps them keep calves safe.
    • But how do they decide where to go?
    • They will spend an hour, shuffling around, laying down, and standing back up again.
    • The direction they face when lying down is there vote.
    • Once they decide, they set out.
    • Early poles show that forest buffaloes point at Critter Groups while plains buffloes face snoutward at Measure Up.

Major Fact: Dangerous Hunting

  • Cape buffalo are a member of the big five: the five most dangerous animals to hunt on foot. 
    • Elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards, and cape buffalo
    • South African currency bills have pictures of these animals
  • But there are lots of large herbivores in Africa (hippo, wildebeest, elands, etc.), what makes cape buffalo so dangerous?
  • These mud boys take revenge.
  • Because they’re so big and muscular, one shot is not likely to take down one of these buffalo soldiers, regardless of the calibur (according to big game hunting experts). So it’s probably going to run away after getting hit.
  • Or so it wants you to think. It will remember the direction where it heard the shot and seemingly run off in a random direction.
  • What it’s actually doing is circling back around on its own trail to get sweet sweet revenge.
  • It makes its way behind the hunter and actually will wait behind a bush or a rock, using camouflage as best it can until the hunter is within range—then it charges. 
  • With an impenetrable shield on its head and sharp horns, a 2,000lb animal ambushing you at 35 mph from some nearby bushes is about all it takes to kill a human.
  • There’s a gripping story called “No One Survives a Cape Buffalo Attack” where some high schoolers managed to get the attention of a cape buffalo and one of them barely escaped with his life—he didn’t escape with his pants though.
  • Locals will say that the cape buffalo is responsible for the most human deaths of any animal in Africa. It’s almost certainly the animal responsible for the most hunter casualties.

**So watch your back, let your aim be true, and ba ram you like the cape buffalo in LDT.

Outro:Hey everyone. We need measure up intros! It really makes our day to see that we’ve received a new measure up from a fan of the show. Plus, you get to hear yourself on the airwaves, so to speak. Just say, sing, whisper, scream, or chitter the words “measure up” into your phone’s recording app and email that bad boy to ldtaxonoy@gmail.com. Also, don’t forget to vote for your favorite podcast segment on December 3rd. We’ll finally know whether the amazing and fun Critter Groups or the tedious and bad Measure Up is more beloved. You can vote on Facebook and/or Twitter. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week!

Episode 95 – Bobbit Worm: The Terror Tube

“And today were talking about a terror tube that makes the sarlacc that swallowed Bobba Fett seem like a kiss on the cheek. But more on that later.”

The ocean floor is a treasure trove of decaying plant and animal matter that’s ripe for the picking for fish and invertebrates that are looking for tasty morsels. But in case you forgot, the ocean can be a terrifying alien landscape full of awful oddities. A fish combing the sand for aquatic treats may instead find their doom shooting out of the sand at blinding speed. In the blink of an eye, victims are wrenched below the sand, never to be seen again. But a quick and decisive strike may be what a disturbing ocean worm needs to avoid hunger in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 95 – Bobbit Worm: The Terror Tube

Episode 94 – Tarantula Hawk: Gross Pepsi

“…and today we’re talking about a creepy crawly with a nasty sting that might be living in your backyard.”

K – Animalia  P – Arthropoda  C – Insecta O – Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, yellow jackets, hornets)  F – Pompilidae (parasitic wasps) SubF – Pepsinae G – Pepsis S – Gross

Spider Parasites

  • While an adult tarantula hawk is nectivorous (it only eats nectar), the same cannot be said of its larva stage
  • When a female tarantula hawk has mated, it will start looking for a place to lay its egg. (single egg)
  • Most animals like to lay their eggs in a place that is safe and has an abundant food source, and our friend quentin tarantula hawk is no different.
  • She will find a nice quiet tarantula to settle down on, you know, something out in the country. Then she’ll sting it with what is likely the worst insect sting imaginable.
  • Seriously, this thing is bad. For humans, it’s been called one of the most painful stings on earth.
    • One researcher said that the sting is “…immediate, excruciating, unrelenting pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.”
    • The actual guy who came up with the sting pain index, Justin Schmidt, called it “blinding, fierce, and shockingly electric”.
    • Second on the pain index losing to the bullet ant
    • The sting is not fatal to anyone who doesn’t have an allergy and the pain lasts for about five minutes.
  • For tarantulas, the sting paralyzes them
    • The wasp squares off with the spider and hits it with one sting to get things going. The spider will be crippled but still mobile. Then the wasp will sting it a few more times.
    • I saw a video where the wasp got on its back and crawled under the spider, like it was a mechanic inspecting its chassis
    • Then the wasp drags the spider’s limp, hairy body to the spider’s own lair and attaches its egg to the spider’s abdomen before sealing the entrance to the lair
  • Then, the larva hatches and starts eating the paralyzed spider from the inside out, being careful to avoid vital organs so the spider stays alive for as long as possible.
  • When the spider is nothing but a hairy husk, the larva leaves to pupate and mature

Episode 93 – Long-Tailed Grass Lizard: Reggie Tails

And today we are telling a Thai tale of a towering tail. But more on that later.”

Grass is important to dads with perfectly manicured lawns, but it goes unnoticed by the rest of us. But what if you were a lot smaller, and you made you home in thick tall grass. You might find it more difficult to get around than a walk in the park. One lizard has come up with an interesting way to get over the green grassy seas to food, shelter, and all the things a small lizard could want. But swimming the sawgrass straights is just one method of locomotion in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Measure Up

Welcome to Measure Up, leading candidate for best part of the show, a title to be officially determined by you on December 3rd on Twitter and Facebook. This is the part of the show when we relate 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 no new intros this week, so that means I get to play an animal sound and Carlos will guess what it is!

Length – 12 cm (4.7 in)

  • How many long-tailed Grass lizards go into the length of the Yom River in Thailand (787 km (489 mi)).
  • Hint: The Yom river starts in the Phi Pan Nam Mountains and flows to the Nan River at Chum Saeng District.
  • Answer: 6,592,136

Lifespan

  • In captivity they can live up to 5 years.
  • How many lizard life spans go into the length of time Thailand has been under its current constitution (two years).
  • The constitution was voted in by 61.4 percent of the 59.4 Thai people that participated.
  • 0.4 lizard lives.

Major Fact

  • When they say long-tailed, they aren’t kidding. 
  • The tail is about three times the length of their body. Some can grow over 12 inches with the tail!
  • Their tails are also prehensile, which means they are capable of grasping things
    • Prehensile tails are extremely dextrous compared to other tails.
  • Why does he have such a long tail? Good question.
  • I could only find a few sources with varying information.
  • One website, Wildherps.com said, “Nobody needs a tail that long, and don’t try to convince me that somebody does.”
  • Another source claimed that the lizard uses this tail to balance on unstable grass and bushes. Apparently overgrown grass is difficult to get through so the lizard will run or swim quickly across it, using its tail for balance. 
  • That seems like overkill, especially with countless lizards live in similar environments with much shorter tails. 
  • So I’ve come up with some supplementary theories based on what we know about other lizards. 
    • Chameleons use very long prehensile tails to support their arboreal lifestyles.
      • Other arboreal animals like monkeys, salamanders, and possums also have a prehensile tail.
      • Prehensile tails are also quite long because it allows for more reach and dangle potential.
    • The long-tailed grass lizard, like geckos and anoles can drop their tails when attacked by a predator.
      • Dropped tails continue to wriggle and writhe, attracting predators to them instead of the lizard.
      • A very long dropped tail could attract larger prey.
    • The monkey tail lizard and some iguanas have long prehensile tails that are used for defense. 
      • The tail can be whipped at enemies, discouraging an attack.
    • To catch prey.
      • I found that long-tailed lizards were said to be quick and agile, able to leap quickly into the air to catch flying insects.
      • Their tails might help them push off the ground with more control and speed than if they had short tails. 
    • The same reason lots of animals have seemingly unhelpful and extra oddities. To attract mates.
      • Most lizards have dewlaps to attract mates. 
      • Dewlaps are the flap of skin under their chins that flare out.
      • But maybe tail length is something the lady lizards consider.

Episode 92 – Red-Lipped Batfish: Beauty Bats

“And today we’re talking about a fish that looks like a victim of the scream extractor machine in Monsters Inc.”

You might think you know anglerfish, but think again. He strides across the ocean floor luring his prey, his body a crude caricature of a much more well-adapted animal. He’s the hero Galapagos deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll learn about him, because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector, a red-lipped batfish.

Continue reading Episode 92 – Red-Lipped Batfish: Beauty Bats

Episode 91 – Tibetan Fox: The Fat Cheeks Fox

“And today we are talking about an animal that David Attenborough once called ‘the most wonderful looking fox’ and also ‘bizzare with a curious body shape.’ I guess a fox can be two things but more on that later…”

The Ethiopian highlands are often called the roof of Africa, but The Tibetan Plateau is called the roof of the world. The land here is tens of thousands of feet above sea level and it’s surrounded by some of the tallest mountains on the planet. Living and surviving in a place that regularly drops to -40 degrees Fahrenheit can be a challenge to the animals that live here. One unique mammal has found a way to team up with unsuspecting allies. Sometimes, a reluctant and one-sided partnership, is the best way a cunning fox can secure a meal in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 91 – Tibetan Fox: The Fat Cheeks Fox

Episode 90 – Gelada Monkey: The Sneaky Monkey

“And to day we’re talking about a guilty little monkey. But more on that later!”

The rules of engagement vary widely in the animal kingdom, especially when it comes to romance. But whether a species has multiple mates, or just one, at least there are rules. The Gelada Monkey may seem like a tasty Italian treat, but in reality, it hides a dark secret. Going against their own instincts, two star-crossed lovers will actively deceive their fellow monkey in order to rendezvous in secret. But infidelity never goes unpunished here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 90 – Gelada Monkey: The Sneaky Monkey