Episode 130 – Giant Cuttlefish: A Tricky Trist

“…and today we’re talking about another misnamed sea creature with a sneaky nature.”

The coral reefs of Australia are bright and colorful places of happiness for all kinds of fish and sea critters. But there’s always danger lurking around every corner. One surly cephalopod has a habit of hypnotizing its prey and tricking its rivals with fancy flashes. The cuttlefish is simultaneously a dangerous predator and a master con artist. But being one of the smartest invertebrates has its advantages and helps it survive here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

  • Cuttlefish look like short armed octopi with large mantles.
  • Giant cuttlefish have flat fins that surround their mantle.
  • Unlike an octopus, cuttlefish usually swim around horizontally with their arms out in front of them or behind them.
  • They have relatively large eyes with long horizontal pupils.

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 Casy, who does music you can find on Spotify or Youtube under the name Casy Michelle. And guess what, I heard it and it’s good!

Length

  • 50 cm (20 in)
  • How many patu digua spiders go into the length of the giant cuttlefish?
  • Hint: The patu digua is thought to be smallest spider in the world. But there might be a smaller spider in Africa called Anapistula caecula. The female is slightly larger than patu, but the male has never been seen and male spiders are usually smaller than females.
  • Answer: 1,333 spiders. Patu digua is 0.015 inches (0.3 mm)

Weight

  • 10.5 kg (23 lb)
  • How many square feet of microlattice, the world’s lightest metal material, go into the weight of a giant cuttlefish?
  • Hint: Boeing invented microlattice to be strong and light. Microlattice is like a sponge of interconnected nickel that’s thinner than human hair.
  • Answer. 4,099 square feet of microlattice. Microlattice is 2 g/ft3 (0.00561 lb/ft3)

Fast Facts

  • Cuttlefish live for up to two years and their main goal is to survive and mate in the winter.
  • Females are polyandrous, which means they will take multiple mates, which helps to maximize their chances of reproducing.
  • Females lay eggs on rocks which hatch after five months.
  • After mating, cuttlefish die because their work here is done.
  • For the most part, cuttlefish spawn in pairs or in small groups.
  • However, there’s a famous snorkeling spot in South Australia called Point Lowly where cuttlefish aggregate in spawning groups as large as ten.
  • We don’t know much about juveniles after they leave the spawning grounds and they haven’t posted any strategy guides for how they make it to adulthood.
  • Bottlenose dolphins like to eat giant cuttlefish but they don’t like eating ink or cuttlebones, which are hard internal shells.
  • Cuttlefish are colorblind but it’s thought that they may be able to see the linear polarization of light.

Major Fact: Sexual Deception

  • Many cephalopods are armed with special cells called chromatophores.
    • We’ve talked about them before for the Humboldt squid and the mimic octopus
    • These cells have all kinds of pigments in them and the animal can rapidly expand or contract certain cells to create whatever color it wants
    • Some animals use this ability to camouflage while others use it to communicate with other members of its species.
    • The cuttlefish does both of those things and adds some extra spice on top
  • They can change colors insanely fast. Even being able to create flashing strobe patterns going across their bodies.
  • The first way they use this is to catch prey. In some cases, they camouflage as staghorn coral by lifting up their arms and shifting into the same shade as the other coral in the area.
    • In other cases, however, it will put on a dazzling strobe light display that flashes from white to dark brown. 
    • This actually hypnotizes many small fish and crustaceans (including the powerhouse mantis shrimp) and causes them to be motionless and mesmerized, a perfect target for the cuttlefish.
  • The second way they use their chromatophores is in mating situations. 
    • Females and males often use distinct patterns. Females have a mottled, patchy pattern while males tend to have a more striped pattern.
    • But not all cuttlefish are created equal. Some males are larger than others and use their size to bully smaller males out of being able to mate.
    • So what do the small males do? They cross dress!
    • A sneaky beta male will place himself between the female and the alpha. Then he’ll change the side that’s facing the female to match the striped male pattern while displaying an innocent blotchy female pattern to the alpha. 
    • If the alpha glances over, he’ll likely just see to ladies hanging out. The sneaky male has just bought himself some time to convince the female to mate.
    • They only do this when one rival is present, though, since if they’re caught, they’ll fight, lose, and not be able to mate.

Ending: So turn on the lights, dazzle the one you love, and think creatively like the cuttlefish here in LDT.

Outro

And with our 130th episode, we close out the 13th season of the show. But fret not! We’ll be right back next week with yet another 10 awesome animals that you desperately need to know about. But first, we’d like to take a minute to thank some of the people that have helped make this little podcast what it is. 

  • First, I’d like to sincerely thank everyone who sent in a measure up intro. I know I give the segment a lot of grief (it gives me grief) but hearing the voice of someone who enjoys the show and seeing the effort they put in really means a lot to us.
  • I’d also like to thank those who left a review for the show since our last season ended. We have two this season from HelloandNo and Jeremiah48:10, which is a pretty great powerful verse. If you left just some stars in a rating, thank you as well!
  • I’d also like to thank Brian for his incredible ability to put together amazing artwork for the show week in and week out. He’s a creative force to be reckoned with and we always look forward to seeing what he’ll do with each week’s animal.
  • I also want to thank Moxie from the Your Brain on Facts podcast for being a part of our “Facts with Friends” segment and allowing us to talk about Ken Allen the orangutan escape artist on her show! Check it out!
  • We’d also like to thank Johanna for putting the new show logo together and offering some great ideas for marketing the show.
  • And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to thank my wife Bibby for supporting us with this show through the years. She’s always helping me look for new angles to reach more people and also is a source of creative inspiration when I can’t think of any animal nicknames to save my life.

It means the world that we have the help and support of so many and that people actually take time out of their days to listen to us jabber on about animals. We know you have a limited amount of time in your day and we appreciate you spending it with us. So that’s all for season 13. We’ll see you next Tuesday for another round of interesting animal info here on Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 129 – Golden Poison Dart Frog: The Miniature Midas

“…and today we’re talking about a tiny bright yellow animal that doesn’t have to worry about most predators. But more on that later.”

The rainforest is a lush verdant landscape covered in shades of green and brown. Organisms that deviate from this chromatic conformity usually want to be seen like budding flowers or lovestruck birds. But what if you’re a small earthbound amphibian? You’d want to blend into the forest, never to be seen by the multitude of hungry animals that could make a meal out of you. Not so with one bright yellow frog that wants to broadcast its position to every creature within eye-shot. But having a hidden trick behind your back is often the golden rule in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Continue reading Episode 129 – Golden Poison Dart Frog: The Miniature Midas

Episode 128 – Praying Mantis: The Penitent Predator


“…and today we’re talking about an insect that’s not as pious and charitable as it’s posture projects. But more on that later.”

While the prayers of a righteous man availeth much, the prayers of a righteous bug aren’t as effective. In fact, there is no such thing as a righteous bug. But that doesn’t stop the infamous praying mantis from folding its hands whenever it gets the chance. But contrary to unpopular belief, the mantis isn’t praying (with an “-a”), he’s preying (with an “-e”). These hands, folded in mock prayer, are actually swift to shed blood—insect blood, that is. But that’s just another day in the brutal world of insects here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

  • The european mantis is the classic looking large green praying mantis. 
  • It has a long grasshopper-like body with backward facing hind legs.
  • It’s distinctive raptorial first legs are folded and spiked in that praying shape.
  • They have triangle shaped heads with large forward facing compound eyes.
  • They can also fly with long locust-like wings. 
  • Mantises often use camouflage and many can come in a variety of looks from full camo to brilant colors. 
  • The european variety is solid green to blend in with leafy plants. 

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 so we get to hear from an animal and Carlos has to guess what it is!

  1. Robin
  2. Toad
  3. Squirrel
  4. Cheetah

Length

  • Females are between 7–9 cm while males are slightly smaller.
  • 9 cm
  • How many mantises go into the height of a king shepherd?
  • King shepherds are a variant of german shepherds that are much larger than the original. German shepherds have been the subject of controversy in which the Kennel Club that breeds show dogs have bred the characteristic sloping backs into shepherds, but German shepherd breeding clubs that bred working dogs have pointed out that the show dogs are extremely deformed. Today the Kennel Club has decided to retrain judges to penalize unhealthy bred deformities. 
  • 8.7 mantises. King Shepherds can be as tall as 31 inches (78 cm) at the shoulder. 

Weight

  • 5 grams.
  • How many mantises go into the world’s largest wedding cake?
  • The cake was made at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut in 2004. Little known fact, German Chocolate Cake was invented in the U.S. and has nothing to do with Germany. It was originally called German’s chocolate cake because chocolate maker Samuel German came up with the formulation of baking chocolate used in the recipe. Either way, I’ve been looking at pictures and I’d like some right now, please. 
  • 1,363,680 mantises. The cake was 6.818 tonnes (15,032 lb).

Fast Facts

  • Mantids have two big compound eyes but it also has three smaller eyes on the top of it’s head. 
    • They have excellent eyesight and these multiple eyes help it to see things all around it. 
    • They can also rotate their head 180 degrees. 
  • Mantids stand on four limbs and often keep their first limbs folded up. 
    • It’s long body on four legs makes walking cumbersome.
    • But it can fly for long trips.
    • As an ambush predator with camo, they spend a lot of their time positioned in one spot.
  • Humans eat and reposition their food in their mouths with the jaw and tongue.
    • But mantids have complex finger-like mouth parts that can pull in and reposition food. 
  • I like to eat vegetables first to get them out of the way, but mantids prefer to eat the limbs off of their dinner plates first. 
    • Mantids are aggressive hunters that will go after almost anything, even much larger prey. 
    • This can also get them killed by equally hungry prey. 
  • Mantids lay eggs in pouches called an ootheca that stick to surfaces. 
    • When they are ready, up to 200 larvae emerge like an alien chest burster.
    • They go through several instars and develop more and more with each moult.
    • Most don’t survive the first instar.

Expert Bug Killer

  • The praying mantis is perfectly designed to kill and eat a whole host of different insects. While it mainly prefers grasshoppers, roaches, and crickets, it also east spiders, myriapods (millipedes and centipedes), worms, and snails. 
    • The Animal Planet segment said that “birds, mice, frogs, snakes, lizards, and soft-shelled turtles cannot escape the deadly speed and precision of the praying mantis.”
    • I’m not sure if that means that it hunts these animals or that they’re just not as fast. The Chinese Praying Mantis can get to be almost 5 inches long, so I guess it could eat small chicks and frogs.
  • It will also eat other mantises and often engages in sexual cannibalism where the female eats the male after mating. Horrifying but not uncommon in the insect world.
  • Its precision comes from its compound eyes (two eyes that are actually made up of thousands of little eyes). While it doesn’t have the kind of depth perception that a lot of mammals have thanks to having eyes that are too close together, the mantis can sway its head back and forth to see how its prey moves against the background and judge distance that way.
  • Once it spies its prey, it approaches slowly until it’s in striking range. Then it launches its front, folded, raptorial legs out (like the mantis shrimp).
  • However, unlike the mantis shrimp, the praying mantis isn’t trying to stun its prey with an angry fist. Instead, it launches its legs over the prey and scoops it up using the sharp spikes on the underside of the legs.
  • These spikes don’t always penetrate the prey’s exoskeleton, but they definitely get caught in wings, legs, and chitinous hairs. 
  • At this point, researchers used to think that the mantis would kill the prey with a neck slice with its mandibles. But then they noticed that it doesn’t go through the trouble of rotating the prey when it caught it from behind.
  • Instead, the mantis just starts eating whatever part of the prey is closest to its mouth, preferably while it’s still moving.

Ending: So fold your hands, pray for blessings, and be ready to strike when blessings come your way like the Praying Mantis here on LDT.

Outro

Hey everyone, Carlos here with a quick reminder to subscribe and leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts if you like our show. Even if you listen on a different app, the reviews on Apple Podcasts really help us get seen and rank higher so that we can share more interesting animal info with more people. Thanks for listening and helping us out, and we’ll see you next week.

Episode 127 – Lion: The Sultan of the Savannah

“…and today we’re talking about the sultan of the Savannah, the prince of the pride, the king of the jungle. But more on that later.”

Cats are a solitary bunch. They prefer quiet naps in trees or in the sunbeam cast in an otherwise vacated living room. The loner lifestyle is just easier for felines that perfect hunting and don’t want to share their kills. But one, and only one cat prefers to live and hunt as a team. Together, these pantheras can dominate the best areas of the Savannah, and all it takes is a little social interaction. But cooperation in a demanding environment is easier said than done in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 127 – Lion: The Sultan of the Savannah

Episode 126 – Harpy Eagle: The Raging Raptor

“Today we’re talking about a bird that’s as fearless as it is big. More on that later.”

Life in the rainforest can be hard, but not if you’re a harpy eagle. Enjoying a top spot at the head of its food chain, these frilly feathers can choose from a wide variety of animals to make its meal. While most birds choose easy, light prey, the harpy eagle goes for the hefty haunches. But being able to carry your own weight is how you snag the prime prey here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 126 – Harpy Eagle: The Raging Raptor

Episode 125 – Okapi: The Sneak Forest Ungulate

“And today we’re talking about a big sneaky horse, giraffe, zebra. But more on that later.”

The African Savannah is dominated by predators but the jungles of the Congo aren’t much safer. The dense forests conceal powerful predators like the leopard, which catches prey that didn’t even know she was there. Today, poachers are even more dangerous, taking game with dwindling numbers. Where is an African ungulate to find refuge? Only through a toolkit of stealth and evasion that’s unheard of among large creatures. But when your environment seems stacked against you, skill and perseverance is the key to Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 125 – Okapi: The Sneak Forest Ungulate

Episode 124 – Giant Moray Eel: The Alien of the Deep

“And today we’re talking about a sci-fi fish with some grumpy gills. But more on that later.”

If you were to go diving almost anywhere in the shallows of an Indo-Pacific ocean, there’s a good chance you’ll find a moray eel stationed in some of the porous holes left in the rocky coral reefs. Looking like a cross between a snake, a dragon, and a cartoon witch, the moray eel poses little threat to humans, but is a menace to reef fish. With an unusual jaw that you might find in a painting by H.R. Geiger, the moray may seem a little unhinged when he eats. But getting a good grip on your prey is the best way to catch a slippery fish here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 124 – Giant Moray Eel: The Alien of the Deep

Episode 123 – Dwarf Olive Snail: The Swash Surfer

“Today we’re talking about an aquatic olive garden. But more on that later…”

The sun, surf, and gentle sound of waves crashing against the sandy shores may bring to mind a welcome respite from daily life. But as with human surfers, the beach is life for some tidal animals. There’s a whole world of creatures living and dying in the swash and backwash of the briny tide, where the land meets the sea. But learning to live in this unique ecosystem is how one snail makes its way in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Continue reading Episode 123 – Dwarf Olive Snail: The Swash Surfer

Episode 122 – African Elephant: The Savannah’s Bulldozer

“…and today we’re going to talk about the elephant in the room. More on that for the entire episode…”

Striding across the African Savannah in a constant search for food, the African Elephant is the largest land animal in the world. But in spite of its size, the elephant is a master of subtlety. When large family groups are social distancing in the wilderness, it’s vital that they stay connected remotely without alerting anyone nearby who may be looking for a snack of elephantine proportions. But communicating under the radar is all part of the elephant’s survival here in LDT.

Continue reading Episode 122 – African Elephant: The Savannah’s Bulldozer

Episode 121 – Lesser Long-Nosed Bat: A Long Secret

“…And today we’re talking about an animal that has gotten some bad press recently. But hopefully some cool facts will turn it around. More on that later.”

A dry barren wasteland seems like the kind of place most creatures would avoid. But the dessert offers rare opportunities to those who have the tools to capitalize on the hidden bounty. But even if you do, there are challenges to overcome and one misstep can mean the end. But one aerial mammal may have just what it takes to make America’s Southwest their home. But strange animals with niche tools in strange places are part of the beauty of Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Continue reading Episode 121 – Lesser Long-Nosed Bat: A Long Secret