Episode 110 – Ocean Sunfish: The Saucy Saucer

“And today we’re talking about fish head fish heads rolly polly fish heads. But more on that later…”

If you’re cruising around in temperate waters on a sunny day, don’t be surprised if you see a huge flat disk floating on the surface nearby. The Mola mola is a massive fish that sometimes needs a vacation to the surface to catch some rays. Not sting rays, of course, sun…rays. But why would a fish need sunshine? And why does this fish look like weird disembodied swimming head? It’s all part of the natural master plan here in Life Death and Taxonomy.


The sun fish is extremely odd looking and difficult to explain but i’ll try.

  • Take a fish head (only the head), slap on a short long, rounded caudal fin called a clauvus, stick on very long dorsal and anal fins, and then tell it something shocking.
  • You have a mola mola.
  • The fish is so oddly shaped that it can be mistaken for a sea turtle swimming sideways.
  • They come in silver, grey, white, and mottled patterns.
  • You might find these fish in temperate or tropical waters in the atlantic and pacific.

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 this week! That means we get to hear from an animal, and Carlos has to guess what it is. Hercules Beetle 

  1. A rhinoceros beetle
  2. A hummingbird
  3. A crow
  4. A playing card in a bicycle spoke


  • They can grow to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) from fin-to-fin.
  • How many sunfish go into the diameter of the smallest known sun (or star)?
  • Hint: The smallest star is a red dwarf called OGLE-TR-122b. It lives in a binary stellar system. 
  • Answer: 133,633,580 fish. The sun is 334,000 km (207,537 miles) in diameter. 


  • Older adults can weigh 247 to 1,000 kg (545 to 2,205 lb)
  • 2,000 lbs
  • How many Sunfish can you stack on a Toyota Tundra’s tailgate before the support cables snap?
  • Hint: Like most trucks, the tailgate is supported by two stainless wire ropes. The tensile strength of these cables are far greater than the safe working capacity of the tailgate. Meaning, other things will break, like the hinges or where the cable is connected, before the cable snaps. 
  • A little more than two fish. The breaking strength of the cables are 4200 lbs.

Fast Facts

  • Baby sunfish look like suns. Or at least child drawing depictions of the son. 
    • They have circle bodies with triangle fins going off in every direction from the radius.
  • Sunfish grow incredibly quickly and a lot. 
    • They are the largest bony fish species, to find bigger fish you have to turn to chondrichthyes, which are sharks.
    • They apparently grow the most of any vertebrate, up to 60 million times their hatchling size.
    • One Mola Mola at the Monterey Bay Aquarium grew 373 kg (822 lbs) in 15 months.
  • They like to eat jellyfish, like sea turtles, which puts them at risk of eating plastic bags, like sea turtles.
    • But they are considered generalists, which means they eat a wide variety of fish, squid, and crustaceans.
  • It was once theorized that they were poor swimmers and just drifted with currents.
    • But young sunfish are quick swimmers despite their bizarre body shape and fins. 
    • Larger sunfish are slower but they can still get around. 
  • They can live up to ten years in captivity.
    • The size of adults makes them.
  • People used to think they were plankton since they seemed too slow to move on their own.
  • Japanese shoguns accepted Mola Molas as payment for taxes in the 17th century

Major Fact: Sunburned Fish

  • Ocean sunfish are probably called sunfish for one of two reasons
    • Their babies (fries) look like little ten pointed suns with giant eyeballs
    • Or the fact that they regularly sunbathe on the surface by just lying sideways and floating around
  • You don’t usually see fish just lying on their side floating on the surface unless they’re dead, so why does the mola mola do it?
  • There are a couple of theories:
    • It likes to dive up to 2,000 feet below the surface, which can get pretty cold
      • If it stays in water colder than 54 degrees for too long, it could die
      • Sunning itself warms it up, allowing it to dive back down to colder waters
    • Because it doesn’t have scales and instead has skin covered in mucous, its huge body is home to 40 different types of parasites – mostly different types of worms that attach themselves to the outside and even the inside of its body (since it can’t close its mouth all the way)
      • To get rid of the parasites, the mola sometimes jumps out of the water to dislodge anything that’s attached to it. They’ve actually injured people by accidentally jumping into a boat
      • They also have half-moon and angel fish swim up and eat parasites off of them
      • But for the really tough parasites, they allow birds on the surface to pick at them while they sunbathe. Since they’re so big, they don’t have much to worry about when it comes to birds.
      • Plus, drying out and UV radiation sometimes kills off parasites
      • One of the most common parasites is the shark tapeworm, which only reproduces in sharks. It lodges inside the slow-moving mola mola in the hopes that a shark will eat the fish and it can reproduce
  • But lying flat on the surface has its downsides.
    • For one, the mola mola can get sunburned since it doesn’t have scales
    • And also, the birds sometimes decide to peck out the fish’s eye

It’s the end of season 11! Thank you to everyone who has helped us make this show the best that it can be. 

  • Thank you to everyone who sent in measure up intros
  • Thank you to The Honey Badgerer for leaving an awesome review for us on Apple podcasts!
  • Thank you to Brian for creating the amazing art for each episode and to Johanna for our sweet new cover art.
  • Thank you to my wife, Bibby, who has allowed me to spend part of every week working on this podcast.
  • And finally, thank you to everyone who listens to the show. Knowing you’re out there waiting on the next installment of animal facts is what keeps us going every week. Your continued support is truly appreciated.

So that’s it for season 11, but that just means a new set of 10 animals is right around the corner. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you next week with more interesting animal info!

Episode 109 – Pangolin: The Armored Carrier

“…and today we’re talking about an amazing armored animal! But more on that later.”

Speed and strength are popular in the animal kingdom. If danger comes my way, I’ll outrun it or fight it off. But some creatures go another route: head to tail armor. It’s a road less traveled among mammals, but some have thick hides or bony plates. However, only one mammal has taken a page out of the playbooks of reptiles and ancient Roman soldiers. But sometimes the most successful creatures are ones that borrow their style from others in Life, Death, and Taxonomy!

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 this week! That means we get to hear from an animal, and Carlos has to guess what it is. Walrus!


  • 40–58 cm without the tail. Tail is 25-38 cm (9.8 – 15 in)
  • 46 cm (18.1 inches)
  • Pangolins like to hang out in bamboo forests. How many pangolins go into the height of the dragon bamboo, the tallest species of bamboo?
  • Hint: Dragon bamboo can have a diameter of up to 30 cm and it’s raised for its use in construction. Young shoots can be eaten.
  • Answer: 76 pangolins. Bamboo can grow to 35 m (114.8 feet)


  • 2 to 7 kilograms (4.4 to 15.4 lb)
  • 4 kilos (8.8 pounds)
  • Eddie Hall has the record for the heaviest deadlift. How many pangolins could Eddie lift?
  • Hint: Eddie used equipment like a deadlift suit and straps. There’s a separate record for lifts without any equipment. The record for women is held by Becca Swanson at 305 kg (672 lbs).
  • 125 pangolins. Eddie deadlifted 500 kg (1,102 lbs).

Major Fact

This is the story about how this animal’s amazing ability has led to the deaths of more than 600 people.

Pangolins are the world’s only scaled mammal.

  • Other mammals like rhinos and armadillos are armored with thick tough skin.
  • But the pangolin’s overlapping scales allow for more flexibility with its armor. 
  • When they are attacked by a predator, they curl into a ball that’s difficult for many foes to get through. 
  • However, they can also climb trees, wrap their armored tails around branches, and enjoy stealth checks without disadvantage.
  • Unfortunately, it also puts them in danger from a different predator.

Even though they are protected as critically endangered animals, they’re trafficked for consumption and because of their unique scales.

  • In China, people could face up to 10 years in prison for selling pangolins.
  • Despite this, that animal is sold for the use of its scales in traditional Chinese medical practices. 
  • Use of the scales is thought to remedy certain skin conditions, arthritis, and menstrual problems.
  • However, this widespread trafficking of pangolins may have contributed to the spreading of a disease to more than 30,000 people.

Recent research has found that the pangolins may be the link that spread the coronavirus to humans.

  • The corona virus is a type of virus that is common in mammals and birds.
  • It’s able to quickly mutat and it’s resistant to treatment and vaccines. 
  • Only a few types of coronavirus are able to infect people, but when they do, they can do a lot of damage. 
  • SARS was a recent example of the corona virus that spread to humans.
  • This coronavirus is called the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
  • It’s infected 30,000 people and killed 600 so far. 
  • It’s believed to have originated in bats, but viruses that start in bats don’t usually spread to people. However, they can, if there’s a viable middle man. 
  • Chinese researchers believe that pangolins might be that middle man. 
  • Genome sequences of the virus in pangolins are a 99 percent match to the ones found in people.
  • However, the study has not been fully published to be scrutinized.
  • Because the animals that were in contact with humans were sold in a now closed illegal market, conclusive tests on those animals may be impossible. 
  • There’s still a lot of research to be done, but identifying the conclusive middleman could help avoid future outbreaks by cracking down on illegal trafficking.


Hey LDT listeners! iTunes reviews help others know you like us, but there are other ways to leave reviews too! But sharing your favorite episodes is a better way to help us grow! If you have a friend that likes animals or interesting info, why not give us a shout out? Thanks for listening and sharing!

Episode 108 – Cicada: The Brooding Bug

“And today we’re talking about a periodic pest. But more of them later.”

All across the eastern U.S., a tenacious bug makes a long-awaited debut. Teeming just below the ground beneath your feet, millions of cicadas will wait years to emerge into the wild blue yonder. But why do they wait so long? And how do they know how long to wait? It’s all a game of numbers as this bug ensures its survival with the awesome power of math here in Life Death and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 108 – Cicada: The Brooding Bug

Episode 107: Disco Clam: Saturday Night Survivor

“…and today we’re returning to an old friend, but we’re going to hear the other side of the story.”

Today we’re returning to familiar territory. We’ve covered a brilliant and formidable predator that seems to be unstoppable because of its powerful punch. But there’s at least one item on its menu that’s not going into the ring unprepared. But when you’re going up against the tidal Tyson, you’re probably not going to win in a slug-fest. Instead, this clever clam turns to a brilliant tactic to outsmart the killer crustacean. But sometimes it pays to be bright in Life, Death, and Taxonomy!

Continue reading Episode 107: Disco Clam: Saturday Night Survivor

Episode 106 – Wels Catfish: Some Fishy Tales

“…and today we’re talking about a fish of legend for which meat is back on the menu.”

If you ever find yourself swimming in the freshwater lakes and streams in Europe, you may want to keep an eye on dark waters below. The Wels catfish may not have the teeth or temperament of a shark or crocodile, but it has just as fearsome of a reputation. Known for centuries as a man eater, the Wels catfish may be the deadliest freshwater fish to date. But we’ll just have to find out how true the stories are here in Life Death and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 106 – Wels Catfish: Some Fishy Tales

Episode 105 – Great White Pelican: Feeding Friends. See?

“… and today we’re talking about an animal that’s great and white. No, not that great white animal! More on that later.”

Food is limited and the flock is many. For most animals, seeking to feed yourself first and then resting to conserve energy, is the best way to survive. But without the aid of rigorous cost-benefit analysis, some animals see fit to cooperate with one another to find food. That can mean expending precious caloric resources to feed someone else. But why? For many animals, it’s worth it to walk the razor’s edge between cooperation and resource guarding. When food is hard to get on your own, it may be time to work together in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.\

Continue reading Episode 105 – Great White Pelican: Feeding Friends. See?

Episode 104 – Goliath Birdeater: Along Came a Spider

“…and today we’re talking about a spider that sat down beside her and tilted the bench under its immense weight, spilling curds and whey everywhere.”

Tarantulas are big. The Goliath Birdeater Tarantula is even bigger. But being big doesn’t mean you don’t have enemies and predators to deal with. So how do you handle them? Well, you could try and bite them with your venomous fangs, but you might run into logistical issues not having a neck and all. So you might need a trick up your sleeve for when things get hairy here in Life Death and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 104 – Goliath Birdeater: Along Came a Spider

Episode 103 – Babirusa: Toothy Baby Ruthy

“And today we’re talking about a big pig with interesting headgear, but more on that later.”

The jungles of Indonesia have provided several episodes of interesting animal info so far. The terrain seems to provide a smorgasbord of offbeat animals. But none may be as strange as a particular forest pig with an odd dental deviance that leaves all the interested researchers. Some adaptations have a clear purpose, giving an animal an advantage in daily life. However, some abilities or anatomical anomalies seem to only provide a disadvantage to an organism. But mystery is something that any intrepid animal enthusiast must embrace in the exploration of Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Continue reading Episode 103 – Babirusa: Toothy Baby Ruthy

Episode 102 – Turritopsis Jellyfish: To Be Young Again

“And today we’re talking about a tiny little long-lived sea booger. But more on that later. The long lived stuff. Not the booger stuff.”


  • Like many sea creatures, the jellyfish is found all over the world’s oceans.
  • They prefer temperate to tropical regions. 
  • They are believed to have originated in the pacific but may have traveled all over the ocean in ballast water.
    • Ballast water is water that’s used to fill tanks in the hulls of ships to maintain balance, especially in high winds.
    • Tanks fill at one port and discharge at the second port.
    • Sometimes, animals find themselves in ballast water to be deposited somewhere else in the ocean.
  • The jellyfish is a bell shape and transparent except for their orange or red center bits.
  • It has short tentacles that range from 8 to 90 
Continue reading Episode 102 – Turritopsis Jellyfish: To Be Young Again

Episode 101: Treehopper – Leaping Bug Teens

“And today we’re talking about a tiny helicopter with some interesting upward momentum.”

Tiny insects are key menu items for a lot of creatures in the kingdom animalia. To be small and tasty is a recipe for doom if you don’t have some interesting survival tactics. Entire orders of insects start in vulnerable metamorphic stages called nymphs. There are so many, we’ve identified some nymphs having no knowledge of their adult stages. Some of these bug babies have developed a way to get around and avoid predation that’s a marvel of organic mechanics. But by the 101st episode, we’ve come to learn that  amazing avoidance abilities are often the key to Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 101: Treehopper – Leaping Bug Teens