Episode 141 – Woodlouse: The Pill Bug is No Bug

“…and today we’re talking about a bug of very many names. But more on that right now.”

You might think that gills are just for ocean dwellers, and you’d be wrong. For the terrestrial woodlouse or roly-poly, using gills is as easy as breathing. But how and why does it have gills? It’s all a part of its unique classification as a crustacean rather than an insect–and it involves staying as damp as possible. But keeping it moist is how this isopod of many names survives here in LDT.

Woodlouse Taxonomy

  • They’re in the subphylum crustacea so they aren’t insects at all!
  • Malacostraca is the largest order of crustaceans and it’s made up of crabs, shrimp, krill, lobsters, and all the major players.
  • The superorder peracarida is made of crustaceans with a brood pouch kind of like a kangaroo.
  • Their order is isopoda, which is made up of all-terrain crusties with seven pairs of legs.
  • The suborder oniscidea is made of woodlice!
  • The family Armadillidiidae curl into balls like armadillos.

Description of the Woodlouse

  • The woodlouse is your typically roly-poly pill bug. 
  • They look like a tiny armadillo with segmented armor plates that go widthwise down the back of their exoskeletons. 
  • The front-most armor segment forms a U-shape out of which their broad heads stick out.
  • Two compound eyes grace either side of the head with two segmented antennas come out of the front center of their heads.
  • Their abdomen forms the back third of their body with the majority of their being being taken up by thorax.
  • Flipping the little cuties over will reveal a writhing mass of face-hugger-esque legs.
  • The European woodlouse can be found in dark grey, brown, and black. In some cases, they have a silver lining around each segment. 

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.

  1. Giant hornet wings
  2. Hummingbird wings
  3. Giant dobsonfly wings
  4. A vacuum in the upstairs apartment

Length

  • 18 millimetres (0.71 in)
  • How many pill bugs go into the Beats Pill (not a sponsor)?
  • Hint: The Beats Pill was released in 2012 and it was one of the first products that were developed after Beats split from Monster Cable Products.
  • 11.7 pill bugs. The pill was 7.7 inches (20 cm). 

Weight

  • 116 milligrams (0.004 ounces)
  • How many pill bugs could go into the largest Glyptodontinae, an extinct ancestor of the armadillo?
  • Hint: Glyptodontinae is thought to have looked like an armored beaver, and lived in South America before the demise of the species. 
  • 17,241,379 pill bugs. The biggest glyptodont is thought to have been as much as 2,000 kilograms (4409 lbs).

Fast Facts About the Woodlouse

The European woodlouse is common all across Europe, the UK, and the Mediterranean basin. 

Most woodlice aren’t able to withstand dry climates because they lose moisture rapidly through their exoskeletons. However, the European woodlouse can withstand drier areas than their kin, hence their broad range. Still, it prefers coastal areas and soils rich in calcium carbonate.

The woodlouse is so-called because it’s often found in decaying wood and plant material. It loves to munch tasty dead plant matter, algae, and lichens. You might find them more easily on cold days when it prefers to bask in sunlight to warm up. When it’s hot, they stick to the shadows, watching… waiting…

The temperate Mediterranean is ideal because of the pill bugs temperature range. It can die in temps below −2 °C (28 °F) and above 36 °C (97 °F). However, on a cold night, they may go into a dormant state to avoid freezing to death.

They’re docile and non-threatening to humans, which is why they are popular among children. However, keeping pill bugs requires specific environments. Do your research before little Timmy brings these crusties into his room.  

Woodlouse Major Fact: A Louse Out of Water

As we now know, gills aren’t limited to just fish, cephalopods, and other sea creatures. We talked about insects like the damselfly larva having gills, but that’s because it lives underwater for most of its life.

So gills are just for breathing underwater, right?

Wrong! The woodlouse puts an end to that hurtful prejudice and shows us that even landlubbers can have gills too.

Woodlice breathe through gills, even though they live exclusively on land. But then why have gills if you breathe air like a normal person? Well, the woodlouse doesn’t exactly breathe air.

It still finds a way to “breathe underwater.” Its gills are located as small flappy appendages to their top ten legs.

These flaps are almost always covered in a thin layer of water. When oxygen from the air hits this water veil, it gets absorbed into the gills.

That’s why they live in moist areas where there is a lot of water to go around. If they dry up, they actually suffocate like a fish or, more appropriately, a crab.

Some species of woodlice have begun to develop small pores on their bellies that lead to tubes where air can pass through and oxygenate the body called pseudotracheae. They still need to use water to absorb the oxygen, but the tubes are on the inside of the woodlouse so they stay moist longer. Adaptation in action!

Ending: So keep your armor close, protect your vital organs when threatened, and always keep your pseudotrachea moist like the woodlouse here in LDT.

Episode 140 – Mako Shark: Hot-Blooded Hotrod

Sharks are a primordial design. A torpedo built to catch and shred prey. These cold black eyes, like a doll’s eyes, are nothing but dark pools of basic, rudimentary instinct, right? Well some sharks are built differently than their kin. The mako shark is one of a few fish with an interesting adaptation that is foreign among fish. These hot-blooded predators of the temperate ocean have an ability that gives them an edge against their most elusive food sources. Sometimes the only way to survive is chase down and catch Life, Death, and Taxonomy…

Description of the Mako Shark

  • Pretty typical shark
  • Slim, tubular body
  • Sharp, pointed snout
  • Large, black eyes (Like a doll’s eyes)
  • Extremely janky thornbush of teeth
  • Countershaded: silver back and sides with white belly

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, again from the Wizard Gandalf. He wrote, “My apologies for my previous submission. Saruman hacked my account. Go in peace!”

Length

  • 3.2 m (10 ft)
  • How many mako sharks go into the length of a square acre of land?
  • Hint: In the UK in the 19th century, the Swing Riots broke out over poor wages and unemployment of farmworkers. Between 1770 and 1830, 6 million acres of formerly common land was enclosed, which means it was absorbed into larger owned farms. The riots also had to do with the new use of threshing machines which made it so fewer workers were needed to complete a harvest. The Swing Riots were named after the fictitious Captain Swing, who would sign threatening letters sent to officials and farmers. Ironically, the riots ended with 19 hangings, 644 imprisonments, and sending 481 to Australia. Also, an acre is traditionally a rectangle that’s equal to one chain by one furlong. 
  • 20.8 sharks. A square acre is about 208.71 feet × 208.71. 

Weight

  • 60–135 kg (132–298 lb)
  • How many mako sharks go into the weight of the Titanic’s center anchor?
  • Hint: The anchor was the largest hand-forged anchor at the time. It measured 15 feet in length. The anchor was produced in pieces by three different companies.
  • 53.6 sharks. The anchor was nearly 8 tons.

Fast Facts About Mako Sharks

  • Range: All over the world’s oceans except for the arctic and Antarctic zones.
  • Diet: cephalopods, mackerels, tunas, bonitos, swordfish, other sharks, porpoises, sea turtles, seabirds. Swordfish are particularly dangerous.
  • Behavior: 
    • Voracious predator that ambushes prey from below.
    • They use smell and vision to hunt rather than electroreception like the great white
    • Like most sharks, mako sharks are ovoviviparous – meaning they give birth to live young
    • They can live to be about 29-32 years old
    • Has a high brain-to-body ratio (like the manta ray), so makos are relatively intelligent and are fast learners
    • I always thought they were responsible for a large number of fatal shark attacks, but there have only been 9 attacks recorded and only one was lethal.

Mako Shark Major Fact: Hot-Blooded Hot Rod

Most sharks are ectotherms, which means they’re cold-blooded like other fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Ectotherms depend on their environments to regulate their body temperatures, so they are found in the greeted diversity in warm regions. 

That’s why you’ll find most sharks in tropical and subtropical waters. There are arctic sharks like the Greenland shark, which survive by adapting to an extremely slow metabolism. But they are also some of the slowest swimming fish in the ocean.

A few sharks, including Great Whites, are endothermic, which means warm-blooded. This allows them to self-regulate their body temperature, which allows them to enjoy cooler climates. The Great White can be found all over the ocean, from Alaska to southern Argentina.

Our friend the mako shark has a somewhat bigger range than other ectothermic sharks, but it still prefers warm and temperate water. However, it’s warm blood may lend itself to something else: high-performance swimming. 

Mammal vs. Fish Breathing and Cardio

Humans, and other mammals and birds with warm blood, have different bodily systems to cold-blooded fish. Your blood flows from your heart to your organs, and back again. Then it’s sent to the lungs to be oxygenated, then back to the heart to be distributed. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems are two separated but connected systems.

In fish, it’s all one system where the heart pumps blood to the body, then through the gills and directly back to the body. Cold-blooded sharks do generate their own heat in their swimming muscles, but these muscles are on the outside of their flanks and close to the skin where most of the heat is lost to the ocean, like Wilson the volleyball.

Warm-blooded sharks have swimming muscles that are buried in their bodies which keeps them warmer longer. Makos also have more red-muscle, which is more powerful and requires more oxygen than white muscle. To supply this type of muscle, endothermic sharks have wider arteries that direct blood inwards to their swimming muscles. Their special network of arteries is called the Rete mirabile.

This vein and artery network involves a close net of tubes that carries blood to and from the muscles and heart. Arteries carry oxygenated blood to warm swimming muscles where it’s heated. Then veins carry oxygen-depleted blood close to the counterflowing arteries. The heated blood in the veins transfers heat to the blood in the arteries, which sends that heat back to muscles that produced the heat in the first place. This allows the shark to reach a heat equilibrium, where blood in the arteries and veins are around the same warm temperature. Since sharks need to continually swim to respirate, the shark maintains its own heat system. 

What Does This Have to Do With Speed?

The Mako shark is the fastest shark in the ocean. They can reach speeds of up to 35 mph, which is 10 mph faster than the speed of their fastest prey, the tuna. That’s 51 feet per second, so if you’re one and a half school buses away from him, he could reach you and give you a kiss on the cheek in the time it takes you to say, “Hey, it’s a mako.” The mako shark wins the title for several reasons. 

For one, it swims more efficiently than other sharks. If you look at similar-sized sharks, they’re bodies sway back so that their head counters their tail movement. Mako shark’s heads and front half remain still and straight while their powerful tails propel them forward. This helps them take better advantage of their perfectly conical and aerodynamic heads and body to reduce drag. 

Their muscles are also adapted to take in oxygen quickly which helps them recover from bursts of speed. Finally, their warm-blooded nature keeps their swimming muscles warm, which aids in performance. 

A study in 2003 examined metabolic enzyme activity in the muscles of a variety of sharks, including endothermic sharks like mako sharks and thresher sharks and cold-blooded sharks. Do you know what they found? 

They said, “Adjustment of enzyme activities to in vivo red muscle and white muscle temperatures in the endothermic lamnids elevates citrate synthase and lactate dehydrogenase in both tissues relative to the ectothermic sharks.”

In other words, hot muscles enhance enzyme activity which helps with aerobic and anaerobic performance. A hot muscle is a fast muscle. 

Episode 139 – Giant Manta Ray: A Focused Fish

“…and today we’re talking about a buccal pumping pup sucking histotroph in huge chunks. That sentence will only get grosser when you know what those words mean. But more on that later…”

Sometimes the biggest giants are the gentlest giants. But this gentle giant is also a genius giant. While the oceanic manta ray might not be smarter than a fifth-grader, it does use its brain in ways that would make other fish extremely sad and jealous if they had any feelings. In fact, it’s those feelings that make the manta ray a prime candidate for smartest swimming blanket. But when you’re the biggest fish in the pond, you can afford a little self-awareness here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 138 – Crab Spider: A Fantastic Floral Friend

“And today we’re talking about a spider that sat down beside a pretty flower, expertly showcasing a poetic light and dark juxtaposition. But more on that later.”

When your relatives have found a tried and true method of success, it may be hard to strike out on your own path in order to innovate. But innovation may lead to new interesting ways to achieve your goals. The crab spider does just that. They put on a colorful coat and venture off the beaten web. But this little arachnid faces challenges and vulnerabilities that her spider kin never encountered. Such is the nature of Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Description

When it comes to shape, it looks like a spider turned a cootie catcher into its home like a hermit crab.

It has eight legs, like all spiders. But its two front legs are a lot longer and more powerful than the rest. 

It has a broad, round cephalothorax attached to a huge opisthosoma (abdomen) that has pronounced corners sticking out to make it look like a delicious pork dumpling.

It also has an angry ridge that forms a v-shaped eyebrow on top of its head. In pictures, I can see two eyes facing front and another two out in the corners of the V, but I can’t ever see the other four. That’s because they’re on the other side. According to Truly Nolen, they have 360 vision at all times.

But for color, they range widely. Some are completely white with some yellowish-brownish streaks (really solidifying the chique dumpling look) while others can be bright green, yellow, and even pink.

I read that the color is often adapted to the environment, but I can’t tell if they can change color on the fly or if certain breeds prefer certain flowers and so take on the color of those flowers through adaptation.

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 very special Measure Up intro this week from Mason! 

Female Body Length

  • 6–7 millimetres (0.24–0.28 in)
  • How many female crab spiders go into the width of the world’s largest flower?
  • Hint: Rafflesia arnoldii has the largest bloom in the world. The plant grows in Indonesia, and it’s a parasitic plant. The flower attaches to a host plant and saps it of water and nutrients. 
  • 129 crab spiders. The bloom can be three feet across.

Male Body Length

  • 2–4 millimeters (0.079–0.157 in)
  • How many male crab spiders go into the length of Bulgaria’s border?
  • Hint: When talking about the length of a boarder with a coastline, you are going to run into something called the coastline paradox. For instance, several organizations measured the length of the U.S. coastlines and came up with several wildly different answers. That’s because a coastline is never straight. The closer you zoom in, the curvier each section becomes. So if you measure a coastline in miles, it will be a lot shorter than if you measure it in inches. The coastline paradox means that a coastline’s length depends on the length of the unit you use to measure it. So even if your guess is way off, it may still be right, and no matter what, it will be wrong.
  • 561,250,000. The coastline is about 2,245 kilometers (1395 miles).

Crab Spider Fast Facts

Diet: It loves to eat flower-visiting insects like butterflies, bees, and even wasps. 

Interestingly, the female never shows any aggression during or after mating

Crab Spider Range

Lives and the Palearctic region – which is the northern half of the eastern hemisphere. It lives everywhere from Portugal and most of continental Europe all the way to Japan. It also lives in some places in North Africa like Egypt. It likes warm, dry, grassy areas.

Major Fact: Webless Wonder

Spiders are known for their web crafting ability, but many species of crab spiders don’t build webs at all. However, they don’t have the amazing jumping abilities that jumping spiders have, so hunting down prey isn’t a great option either.

Instead, like their web-building kin, they lie in wait for their prey. But they don’t trap them, they ambush them. So where’s the best place to ambush a bug? Why a flower of course!

What are the Drawbacks?

But this method presents two problems. A flower is raised and fairly exposed to other predators that can eat the spider, like birds. It’s also a visible spot for prey to see them. The second issue is that flowers might attract some dangerous game like bees and wasps. 

The crab spider solves the first problem through camouflage, and blending into a flower means dawning some pretty brilliant colors. Crab spiders come in bright yellow, pale pink, and stark white in order to sit on vibrant flora unseen. The spider might sit on top of the flower and remain motionless until opportunity strikes, or they may lurk on the underside of flowers for more cover.

They’re capable of taking down much larger animals, including wasps and bees. They do this by keeping them at an arm’s length. A very long arm’s length. Crab spiders have extra-long front arms that are used for grabbing onto prey and wrestling them into position for a kill-bite on the back of the neck. 

Even with these tools, this can be a challenging hunting method, like trying to catch a fly with chopsticks. Spiders can make several attempts where they get their little spider claws on prey only for it to getaway. However, on a sunny day on bright flowers, they have plenty of opportunities. The challenge then becomes surviving through a period of rainy days or bad weather. 

More Than Carnivores

A study in 1989 found that crab spiders can feed on nectar and pollen when insect prey is scarce. They found that spiderlings that fed on nectar and pollen had much better survival rates than ones that went through starvation periods. 

Ending: Take a look around you, put on your best colors, and make stopping to smell the flowers dangerous for bees and bugs.

Episode 137 – Polka Dot Tree Frog: A Light in the Darkness

“Today we’re talking about a tree frog with a bright personality. But more on that later.”

The tropical rainforests of South America hide all kinds of rare and fascinating animals – including a host of one-of-a-kind frogs. The polka-dot tree frog may look like your typical aimless amphibian but it actually leads a secret glamorous life full of glow sticks and rave battles. By day, he’s mild mannered Croak Kent. By night, he’s got a glowing personality. But sometimes being seen is how you avoid danger here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 136 – Orca: The Social Sea King

“…and today we’re talking about a seriously amazing cetacean sensation. But more on that later…”

Upon first look, a cetacean may seem perfectly alien to a human being. But a closer look may reveal soulful eyes, intelligent behavior, and playful attitudes. An even closer inspection will uncover the fact that these organic torpedoes are extremely sophisticated in their social bonds in a way that even human beings can relate to. Though they have a reputation as killers, orcas are family-oriented. For the world’s largest dolphin, sticking together can help them succeed in a vast ocean. But society isn’t just a tool for humans to use, in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 136 – Damselfly: The Damsel Down Under

“And today we’re talking about a damsel down under. But she’s not in distress! She’s thriving! But more on that later…”

Roses are red, the damselfly is blue. They usually fly, but also swim too. The time between hatching and adulthood is often a vulnerable period for insects. Their various stages are often slower and not as well equipped as their ending adult stage. Some insects just have lots of offspring to account for this, while others, like the damselfly, make the most of their instars. It’s all a part of nature’s air and sea show here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 135 – Scaly Foot Snail: Snail Mail Armor

“Today we’re talking about a metal mollusk, perhaps the most metal animal we’ve discussed.”

Iron is the ultimate symbol of impenetrability. In fact, an old naval vessel called the USS Constitution was nicknamed Old Ironsides in an Oliver Wendall Holmes poem because cannon balls were said to bounce off the ship’s sides. But is iron an defense mechanism unique to humans. For a long time we thought it was, but there’s a deep-sea extremophile that makes a home out of volcanoes and wears a suit of armor to bed. For the scaly foot snail, living the metal lifestyle is just one way to thrive against all odds in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 134 – Slow Loris: A Precious Little Primate

“…Thank you to Casy Michelle for creating our theme song. Hear more of Casy’s music by searching Casy Michelle on Youtube. Today we’re talking about a sluggish forest clown! But more on that later.”

If you’re slow in the animal kingdom, you’d better have a plan when trouble comes a-knockin’. Some animals freeze, some hide, some attack, and even others just have a lot of babies knowing that most will be eaten. The slow loris does all of the above except for the babies thing. But if you’re also a slow attacker, you need some punch in your bite–or bite in your punch. But giving potential predators the business is how this little loris survives here in Life Death and Taxonomy.

Episode 133 – Fork-Tailed Palm Swift: A Passerine Pirate

“Thank you to Casy for our theme song. Hear more of Casy’s music by searching Casy Michelle on Youtube. Today we’re talking about a bird with a penchant for piracy, but more on that later…”

Birds often display unexpected ingenuity. They’re famous for building nests, and those nests come in all shapes and sizes, from tiny wood-pecker holes to giant, kiddie pool sized eagles nests. You may expect that sticks and foliage are mainstays in bird construction, but one avian family nests with interesting building materials. And one species, get their materials from strange, if not unscrupulous, sources. But sustainably sourced insulation is one recipe for success in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.