Episode 193 – Atlantic Mudskipper: A Fish Out of Water

“…and today we’re talking about slimy yet satisfying frogish fish, but more on that later.”

While other fish are relegated to the vast oceans, lakes, and rivers that cover 70% of the planet, some decided that it wasn’t enough room. Bent on total global domination, the Atlantic Mudskipper wants to be where the people are. By using its mighty pecs to drag itself onto land, the skipper slaps its way out of the waves and into our hearts as one of the only voluntary fish out of water here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

  • The mudskipper has a froggish face and a body that tapers down to the tail.
  • Mudskippers have bulging frog-like eyes on the tops of their heads. 
  • They have a large dorsal fin that’s followed by a smaller fin ray. 
  • They also have small but strong pectoral fins. 
  • Mudskippers come in a modelled brown in varying shades. They also have black or white specks all over their backs.

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!

  1. Snow leopard
  2. Coyote
  3. Impala
  4. Binturong 

Length

  • 16 cm (6.3 in) 
  • How many mudskippers go into the length of the Kwanza River in Angola?
  • Hint: In 2016, Oscar Scafidi and Alfred Weston achieved the world record fastest time to travel the length of the river in a kayak, which took 32 days 12 hours.
  • 6,034,285.71 Mudskippers. The river is about 600 miles (960 km) long.

Weight

  • 0.5 to 65.3 grams
  • How many mudskippers go into the weight of the volume of diamonds produced by Angola in 2019?
  • Hint: Angola is rich in natural resources like diamonds and oil, but it’s also one of the worst places in the world for malnutrition. They had a childhood mortality rate of 74.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2019. The world average is 38 per 1,000. Part of the reason for this disparity is deep government corruption
  • 27,871.4 mudskippers. 9.1 million carats.

Fast Facts

Mudskippers are native to West Africa in countries like Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Ghana.

Mudskippers enjoy mangrove swamps and tidal flats. 

They are able to hibernate in burrows during cold seasons. Sometimes their burrows can get low on oxygen and the fish will gulp fresh air and replace the air in their burrows. 

These frog fish are carnivorous and enjoy the way of the ambush predator. Like other fish, they use the move “hydrodynamic tongue,” which is using water suction to pull prey into their mouths. If done right no can defend.

They’re able to retain moisture with mucus that covers their body.  

Major Fact: A Fish Out of Water

This is a phrase typically for being out of your element, but for most fish it means “soon to be dead.” But the mudskipper is very good at not being dead when out of the water.

In fact, it regularly lugs its tiny body out of the water and onto the mud to find food and muddier pastures. They actually spend the majority of their days on land.

But don’t fish have gills that can only get oxygen out of water? Wouldn’t they flop pathetically to their deaths?

Well, yes it has gills, and it does need water in order to breathe – so it can’t really dry out.

But it has the ability to close its gill chambers and trap water inside for convenient breathing on the go.

So before going to work in the morning, the mudskipper will pack a lunch of breathing juice. But it also has another ability called “cutaneous respiration”, which basically means that it can breathe through its skin.

While it spends most of its day on land, that land isn’t the gobi desert. It is almost always skipping across very moist surfaces like moss, mangrove roots, and, you guessed it, mud. So it can always either do a good bit of skin breathing when it needs to or replenish its breathing juice.

Lastly, it can also gulp air into its mouth, which is lined with blood vessels set close to the surface of the skin and easily absorb oxygen.

So it can breathe on land because of its hole control and special skin, but how can it move around? Don’t fish tend to flop helplessly?

Yes, but these don’t.

Thanks to a pair of specialized pectoral fins (the ones on the fish’s sides) as well as another pair of pelvic fins (near the fish n’ hips) it can move on land.

The pectoral fins are actually fused together, which creates a kind of suction cup that allows the mudskipper to climb up rocks – like other gobi fish.

It kind of moves like a chimpanzee by placing its tiny pelvic cups on the ground, bringing its longer pecs around and swinging its body forward.

It can also use its tail to book it if need be, which also helps it jump.

Ending: So gulp some air, get out of your comfort zone, and work out your pecs like the mudskipper here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 192 – Hippopotamus: Big, Round, and Deadly

“…and today we’re talking about Moto Moto and why he doesn’t like you. But more on that later.”

A beast lies in a river bed. He is confident when the waters run against his mouth. And he has no fear of turbulent waters. You can’t take him by his eyes or pull his nose with a snare. This behemoth is no chaos monster, but he does sow chaos in the riverways of Africa. The hippopotamus seems like a rotund herbivore that only threatens the grass, but he’s really a mighty mammal to be feared and respected. But big and imposing is one way to rise above the food chain in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 191 – Least Tern: Twitter Mob

“..and today we’re talking about the most direct path imaginable. But more on that later…”

When you’re a little bird surrounded by larger predators, you need to have a strong support network to fend off the baddies. Just like Flik in a Bug’s Life, the least terns have realized that there is true strength in numbers. By giving much stronger opponents the business as a group, terns can turn away even the fiercest of predators. But sometimes standing your ground is the best way to survive here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 190 – European Eel: Mystery Cycles

“…and today we’re talking about an ocean journey that puts Finding Nemo to shame! But more on that later…”

Some animals are born, live, and die in one place. Their homes are never far away and they’re familiar with all they survey. But some species travel great distances, driven by some unknown impulse. A journey can change you, and it does just that for the European eel. But their travels force them from carefree days in sunny streams, into the shadows of the sea. But in the end it’s only a passing thing, this shadow, even darkness must pass 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 do have a new Measure Up intro!

Length

  • Their upper end is 1 m (3 ft 3 in). Some have been found over 4 ft.
  • How many European eels go into the length of the USS Cyclops?
  • Hint: The ship went missing in 1918 on a trip between Salvador in Brazil and Baltimore, Maryland. It is thought that a combination of a cracked engine part, overloaded cargo, and bad weather sank the ship, but no wreckage has ever been found. 
  • 165 eels. The ship was 542 ft (165 m) long. 

Lifespan

  • They can live up to 80 years but one specimen called the Brantevik Eel lived to be 155.
  • How many Brantevik Eel ages would it take to cross the Milky Way Galaxy at lightspeed?
  • Hint: The Milky Way is where you and I and all the animals we’ve ever covered live.
  • 645 eel ages. It would take around 100,000 years to cross the galaxy at lightspeed.

Fast Facts

  • Range: Lives in the lakes and rivers of Western Europe, Russia, Scandinavia, and even North Africa and Turkey.
  • Diet: fish, mollusks, crustaceans, insects, worms.
  • Behavior:
    • They can climb dams and even go up on land for short periods to eat slugs and worms.
    • Eels can live up to 85 years in captivity with one Swedish eel lived for 155 years
    • They are critically endangered, but researchers aren’t sure why. One potential factor is the number of dams that have been built in Europe (over 24K). The eels can climb dams but this drastically impedes their migratory life cycle.
      • They have also been used as food in the past and may still be exported to Asian markets
  • Catadromous – migrating from fresh water to the sea to spawn

Major Fact: Called to the Sea

Where do eel babies come from?

It’s a question that has baffled science for ages, all the way back to Aristotle, who thought they spontaneously grew out of the mud.

A Tik Tok account called Colethesciencedude brought this to internet attention. But he leaves out a major fact about the European eel that makes this phenomenon sound way more mysterious: They have a complex life cycle with six different stages.

We know a bit more about eel reproduction that Cole leads us to believe, but eel reproduction is still weird and amazing. 

Cole also mentions their reproduction “has to do with the bermuda triangle,” which makes this eel even more mysterious. 

Technically, they go to the Sargasso Sea, which is an area of the Atlantic Ocean that overlaps with the Bermuda triangle, but also includes miles of ocean North and east of the Bermuda triangle. The sargasso sea is an area of ocean that has four currents that form an ocean gyre, or a giant circle. 

These unique conditions make that part of the ocean weird. Most notably, it often sees very little to no wind movement, which vexed early sailors. The sea also has a unique type of seaweed called sargassum seaweed, which is the nastey slimy seaweed that tickles your leg and freaks you out whenever you swim on the Atlantic coast.

Between the lack of wind and the tangle of seaweed that sailors thought could gum up boats, the sargasso sea came to be known as cursed, and it’s often linked to Bermuda triangle lore. 

But the seaweed is what’s very interesting to our friend the eel. Eels start life as eggs in the seaweed in the middle of the sargasso sea. They hatch as flat, transparent, larvae called leptocephalus. These little leaf-shaped larvae are carried eastward on ocean currents toward Europe.

It takes them two years to get there and they can travel as much as 6000 km. When they reach coastlines… “What? Leptocephalus is evolving?”

The eel changes to it’s next form called a glass eel. They’re still transparent, but they take on a more familiar eel shape. A handful looks like rice noodles. 

They hang out on the coast until they are ready to move inland upstream. But before they do that, they have to go into stealth mode. They change once again into a stage called an Elver which are brown and better at camouflaging in in-land streams. 

Elvers are relentless in their journey. They may come out of the water to cross fallen branches or rocks that block their path. They may even cross land like a bullseye snakehead.

Once they find a nice two bed two bath home with a white picket fence, they stay there to eat and grow. This is when they enter their next stage called yellow eels. They stay like this for up to 20 years. 

At some point, they start to feel the sea-longing and heed the call of the Valinor and begin their journey into the west. At this point, they turn into silver eels because “all will fade to silver glass, a light on the water all souls pass…”

Amazingly, their body chemistry changes to live in salt water after years of fresh water living. They also skip the lambda bread, because their stomachs shrink to streamline themselves for travel. Their pupils grow so they can see in the darker ocean as hope fades into the world of night.

When they reach their spawning grounds, they release eggs, which are fertilized externally. The eels are thought to clump together to fertilize the eggs. The eggs nestle into the sargassum to start the cycle again. Then white shores call to the adults and their grey ships pass into the west, because they die. 

Cole also mentioned that they could not get them to breed in captivity. He’s right that they tried to do it for a while, but they did do it in 2006. But it was very involved. They had to simulate a 4,000 mile journey and changes between salt and freshwater.

Ending: So wriggle over your obstacles, be catadromous and be elver vigilant like the European Eel here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 189 – Japanese Sleeper Ray: A Shocking Pancake

“…and today we’re talking about a spicy dish. But more on that later.”

Deep in the water where the fish hang out, lives a small sleepy saucer we know not too much about

He’s a zap zap fish with a zap zap belly

And his neat electric organs turn your insides into jelly

He hides beneath the sand and waits for food to flutter by

So he can snatch it up and wait for another passerby

Cause he’s a zap zap fish with a zap zap belly

And it’s just how he survives in Life Death and Taxonomy

Description

  • They are round, disk-shaped rays with flat bodies. 
  • They have a similar top down shape as a horseshoe crab, but they also have a longer fishy tale. 
  • They have soft skin and lack firm fish scales which the wiki writer went above and beyond by calling “dermal denticles.”
  • They have a spotted, mottled look with a light brown tannish base and dark brown spots. But some are a monochromatic tan color.

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!

  1. Cassowary
  2. Koala
  3. Kangaroo
  4. Tortoise

Length

  • 40 cm (16 in)
  • How many Japanese Sleeper Rays go into the height of Eternatus, the poison dragon pokemon that was introduced in Pokemon Sun and Moon?
  • Hint: Eternatus the tallest pokemon when it goes into its special Eternamax Eternatus phase that more than doubles its size. Even without that, it’s the tallest pokemon. 
  • 50 rays. Eternatus is 65’07” or 20.0 m.

Depth

  • 12–23 m (39–75 ft)
  • How many Japanese Sleeper Rays go into the height of the most recent iteration of Godzilla?
  • Hint: As the King of Monsters in the 2019 Godzilla movie and in his face off with King Kong, he is the tallest he’s ever been. A far cry from his original 164 feet (50 meters) in 1954.
  • 5.2 dive depths. Godzilla is 394 feet (120 meters).

Fast Facts

Japanese sleeper rays are so called for their lackadaisical approach to life. They spend most of their time on the sea floor buried beneath the sediment. 

They live in the northwestern pacific ocean on th continental shelf near Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. They’re found near and far away from shore, but they prefer sandy areas near coral reefs. They essentially like oceanic suburbia. 

These rays are viviparous like many of their shark kin. They develop on a diet of yolk and then histroph, which is milk from the uterus. 

They are born into litters of five or less. And they all celebrate their b’nei mitzvah when they’re around 23 to 37 cm long. 

If you want one as a pet, you’re out of luck because they don’t adapt well to captivity. Still, they may be bycatch in shrimp fishing. They have no commercial use and they would be thrown back but they usually don’t survive being caught. This may have contributed to their decline, since the fishing trade in East Asian waters is extensive. 

Major Fact: Electric Tough Love

Like most fish, the Japanese sleeper ray has a litany of predators to keep an eye out for like the blotchy swell shark.

Fish use all kinds of tactics to both catch food and avoid being caught as food. Some use camouflage, some use speed, some just hide, others use venom or poison. But this ray uses a sturdy pair of duracels.

Like the electric eel that we covered, weaponized electricity in animals comes from specialized electric organs. But in the sleeper ray, these organs are made of electrocytes, cells filled with a jelly substance that are stacked in vertical columns. Since each organ is made up of these columns, they function as a series of batteries with their poles aligned in parallel.

This allows them to deliver an electric shock of up to 80 volts. Remember that voltage is the speed of the electrons in electricity while amps are the volume, or number of electrons. So just knowing the volts doesn’t tell us all that much. If something produces 10K volts but 0.0001 amps, it’s not producing much.

However, I could not find a single place that went into detail about the current these guys can produce. But I did find one source that said that Atlantic Torpedo Rays, another species of electric ray, can produce up to 30 amps with 50-200 volts.

To put it into perspective, a dishwasher uses about 10 amps while a lightning strike is over 20K. This isn’t necessarily lethal to humans, but it can be very painful and could kill someone with a heart issue, though no cases have been reported.

The main use for this electric attack is for defense against the dark arts but some sparse observations could point to using it for catching prey. Fishermen often catch these guys in their nets, but the rays usually discharge their electricity as soon as they are disturbed and it takes time for the batteries to charge again.

They’ve been fished for commercial purposes in the past since their oil was apparently as useful as whale oil for lamps and was even used for old timey medicinal purposes.

Ending: So sleep well, pick your battles, and shock the haters with your natural energy like the Japanese sleeper ray here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 188 – Giant Panda: The Bamboo Bandit

“…and today we’re talking about a great big plant-based carnivore, but more on that later.”

When you have a particular problem you call in a specialist. In nature, specialists give up traditional paths to get very good at one thing. It usually refers to the place they live and the food they eat. In China’s mountain forests, a vegetarian carnivore has decided to go green. But investing all your resources into a single opportunity makes you vulnerable to changes in the market. The giant panda is a rare treasure in nature, but shifts in their home land have threatened the pandas Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 187 – Quokka: Pragmatist Parents

“…and today we’re talking about what the internet has dubbed the world’s happiest animal.”

You know that old joke where there are two guys hiking in the woods who see a bear and one of them says “How are we gonna outrun it” and the other says “I just need to outrun you”? Well, the adorable and permanently joyful Australian marsupial known as the quokka has taken that age-old adage to heart. It just goes to show that, like clowns, perpetually smiling doesn’t mean there isn’t a psychopath lurking just underneath. But that’s just how the quokka survives here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description

  • Quokkas are adorable fuzzy brown marsupials. 
  • Picture a rabbit, give it a mousy face and ear. 
  • Throw on a fat caboose and a short rat tail. 
  • They are actually wallabies, which look like small kangaroos. But quokkas are a little rounder and cuter.
  • They have small mouths that are curled into a permanent smile, so they always sport an adorable grin.

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!

  1. Racoon
  2. Wallaby
  3. Squirrel
  4. Rabbit

Length

  • 40 to 54 cm (16 to 21 in) long
  • How many quokkas go into the length of the Eyre Highway, Australia’s longest stretch of straight highway.
  • Hint: Australians know Eyre as the country’s most boring road as it goes across the Nullarbor plain. Nullarbor is exactly what it sounds like: no trees. It’s just flat semi-arid desert on all sides. It’s only a part of National Highway 1, which goes all the way around the coast of Australia for 14,500 km (9,000 mi).
  • 3,107,657 quokkas. 1,660-kilometre (1,030 mi)

Weight

  • 2.5 to 5.0 kg (5.5 to 11 lb)
  • How many quokkas go into the heaviest legal roadtrain in Australia?
  • Hint: A roadtrain in Australia is any truck that hauls two or more trailers. In the history of road trains, the vast majority of record breakers were in Australia. In 2006 an Australian Mack truck hauled 113 trailers 100 yards.
  • 40,000 quokkas. 200 tonnes (220 U.S. tons)

Fast Facts

  • They live on remote islands off the coast of Australia, one of which is called Rottnest Island. 
  • The name for the island came from the fact that Dutch explorers thought the quokkas were some sort of rat and called the island “rat nest.”
  • They like wet and swampy areas with tons of rainfall.
  • Quokkas enjoyed the remoteness of Australia for a long time but not the introduction of foxes, pigs, and cats have made them slightly less happy. 
  • However, there are no cats in Rottnest and the quokkas there are as happy as a Mousekewitz sailing to the land of opportunity. 
  • They are gregarious and live in groups, but that friendliness also extends to their two legged friends. 
  • Quokkas have very little fear of people and they will regularly come up close and interact with people. This may be because of how little exposure island quokkas had with people or any large predators historically. 
    • Quokka selfies became popular in the 2010s because of their gregariousness with people and the fact that they naturally look like they’re smiling.
    • However, if you visit Rottnest, it’s important to know that it’s illegal to feed them or handle them. They can and will bite sometimes if they’re bothered or startled. Harming them or being cruel to them can earn you up to a $50,000 fine or five years in prison. 

Major Fact: Nature’s Ejection Seat

So living anywhere near Australia is dangerous since nature there is like a Navy Seal that always knows 18 ways to kill you.

This is especially true if you are a small mammal – you know, the thing that is on almost every predator’s list of favorite foods.

And despite what the 60s may have tried to shove down everyone’s throats, you can’t smile your enemies into submission. Dingoes, hawks, snakes, as well as cats and dogs couldn’t care less about how photogenic you are.

Unfortunately, quokkas aren’t known for their blinding speed and agility – especially when they’re carrying a joey. They also don’t spend a lot of time in groups and they live in the relatively poor protection of a spiky plant, so avoiding predators isn’t as straightforward as it is for other mammals.

So when they’re facing down a threat they can’t outrun, guess what most quokkas will do. 

They’ll get eaten.

But females with joeys in their pouch have a horrifying strategy to live another day that is literally a last-ditch effort – ditch the baby. They will clench their pouch and pop the joey out and onto the ground, where it will make pathetic little noises for the predator to hear.

This is obviously an instant death sentence for the baby – but the astute pragmatist will instantly recognize that this makes sense.

If the female quokka didn’t decide to prince of egypt its baby, the predator will almost certainly kill and eat them both. 

So in these situations, the joey is doomed no matter how you slice it. But the mother can still survive to have more babies and propagate the quokka species.

So it’s fortunate that, when completely outclassed by an opponent, the quokka doesn’t take Captain America’s “We’ll lose together” idealism to heart and definitely will trade lives for the greater mission –  otherwise there probably wouldn’t be any quokkas left.

An unthinkable thing to do for the irrational and emotional human and a no-brainer for instinct-driven animalistic pragmatism

Reminds me of the Samaritans in 2 Kings when those two women decided to eat their kids during a famine. From a practical side, it makes a bit of sense to trade the quick, certain death of one in order to avoid the less-certain slow, painful death of the whole family. But the whole idea makes me want to tear my clothes and ask for Elisha’s head on a spike.

Ending: So don’t be a communist, don’t drink vodka from random strangers, and remember that you’re never fully dressed without a smile like the quokka here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 186 – Komodo Dragon: A Toxic Debate

“…and today we’re talking about the closest thing to a traditional fire breathing dragon we’re going to get.”

Reptilians once dominated the food chain as the largest animals in their ecosystems until some natural checks and balances relegated them to smaller bodies that were better at sneaking under rocks and bushes. But nature’s memo failed to reach one island in Oceania. The Komodo dragon is a giant that lives at the top of their ecosystem, capable of taking down even large prey animals. But these unique lizards may have a tool up their sleeve besides their size. But pairing a high weight class with some unique talents is the best way to rule in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.  

Description of the Komodo Dragon

  • The Komodo dragon is the largest lizard alive today.
  • And, in fact, it looks like a giant version of the lizards you might find sunning themselves on your front porch.
  • They have long bodies and necks with short legs tipped with sharp claws for digging and tearing. 
  • Their tales are thick and muscular like a crocodile’s and end at a point for maximum whipping potential.
  • Their heads look like they were the direct inspiration for Godzilla with rounded snouts, beady black eyes, and a wide mouth filled with sharp, serrated teeth and a forked tongue that I wish Grima Wormtongue had.
    • Just like the tuatara, the Komodo dragon also has a third eye (the pineal eye) to potentially sense certain types of light. But this one is virtually invisible.
  • Their black/grey/rust-colored skin is made up of these hardened scales called osteoderms. As the name suggests, it has bone skin. The scales are reinforced with tiny bones.
    • These scales appear during adulthood and grow harder with age like a fine whiskey or Sam Elliot

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!

  1. Texel Sheep
  2. Giant Panda
  3. Gila monster
  4. Giraffe

Length

  • 2.59 m (8.5 ft)
  • How many komodo dragons go into the length of the longest ever monster truck?
  • Hint: The truck is called the Sin City Hustler and it boasts a 750-hp engine. It was built by Brad and Jen Campbell to be a novel limousine for tourists in Las Vegas.
  • 3.7 komodo dragons. The truck is 9.8 m (32 ft) long.

Weight

  • 70 kg (150 lb)
  • How many Komodo dragons go into the combined weight of soldiers treated by Marie Curie’s mobile radiology units (called petites Curies) in World War I.
    Hint: Marie Curie is the first woman to receive a nobel prize and the only woman to have the prize in two different fields. During the first world war she realized that soldiers needed surgery as soon as possible and pioneered field surgical centers with X-ray machines. Assume the soldiers weighed 170 pounds. 
  • 1,133,333 komodo dragons. The combined weight of a million soldiers is around 170,000,000 pounds.

Komodo Dragon Fast Facts

  • Range: the islands of Indonesia, particularly Komodo, Rinca, Flores, and Gili Motang. 
  • Diet: They mainly eat a species of Indonesian deer called Javan Rusa. They also will eat just about any scavenged corpse they find and will sometimes even eat the young of other dragons. They’ll also eat eggs, birds, monkeys, goats, boars, and even large animals like horses and water buffalo.
  • Behavior: 
    • They can live for up to 30 years
    • It will eat up to 80% of its body weight in one meal and then sits in the sun to digest.
      • They have a slow metabolism which allows them to eat as little as once a month, but they need to warm up or the food will rot in their stomachs and poison them (again, like crocodiles in winter)
    • They can be aggressive toward humans and have fatally wounded or possibly eaten several people according to reports.
  • Under certain circumstances where females are isolated, they can actually reproduce asexually – much like the mourning gecko.
    • So they can lay eggs without knocking any boots. 
    • This is called parthenogenesis and only males are produced in this way.

Major Fact: Toxic Drool

Komodo dragons are the largest lizards in the world. They’re thought to reach that size because of something called insular gigantism, which is when an isolated species grows larger than their wider-world kin.

Their large size makes them unable to sustain high speeds for long, but they are built for ambush. Dragons wait at ambush sites and spring on victims and overwhelm them with lacerating bites. 

In most cases, they kill prey in 30 minutes. In some cases, larger prey can shake off a dragon and get away. But reports say that escaped prey often dies within a few days, and then they are swarmed by hungry dragons.

You may have heard komodo dragons can do this because their bite is toxic. Legend has it that a komodo dragon’s saliva contains deadly bacteria that comes from the rotting chunks of flesh in their teeth from former meals. Conventional wisdom suggests that a single bite can make an animal fatally sick from this bacteria. 

But that’s not true.  

Some studies did find dangerous bacteria in komodo mouths, but it probably isn’t due to poor oral hygiene. Dragons apparently spend a solid 15 minutes cleaning their mouths after a meal. They will lick their lips and rub their face on dried leaves to remove excess blood and meat.

So if that’s true, why does wounded prey die?

One of the simplest explanations is that they die from infected wounds because animals with open wounds often die from infections. Komodos attack prey by inflicting lacerations from bite, not by efficiently killing blows like lions or leopards. These deep wounds typically cause animals to bleed out, but if not, it could cause infections. CErtain prey, like water buffalo, run to water when threatened. Running into unclean water with open wounds can cause them to become infected. 

However, there is another potential explanation. 

In 2005, researcher Bryan Fry found venom genes in Komodo dragons, and then in 2009 an MRI on a dragon skull found glands that could contain venom. They later took the gland out of a sick komodo and found that it contained venom proteins that could stop blood clotting and lower blood pressure. This could increase the speed an animal bleeds to death, making the komodo at least slightly venomous. 

But critics of these findings suggest that there are many purposes these proteins could serve in a reptile mouth, and may not be used as a venom. 

Ending: So enjoy sunny days, keep your toxic spit to yourself, and only swallow your prey whole if you have a special tongue lung tube like the Komodo dragon here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 185 – Surinam Toad: Back’s Got Baby

“And today we’re talking about a horror pancake. But more on that later.”

The northern region of South America is home to the Amazon Basin, which in turn hosts a wide variety of fascinating rainforest dwellers. With one of the most odd-looking being the surinam toad. What looks at first like a dead frog that’s been crushed by a car is actually just a flat toad that’s sunk to the bottom of a slow-moving river. Like any stressed out parent, she just wants her kids to get off her back. And like most kids, they tend to get under her skin. But that’s just the best way to keep your offspring safe here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 184 – White-Throated Dipper: Milk’s Favorite Bird

“…and today we’re talking about a bird that loves chocolate chip cookies. But more on that later.”

Description

  • Has an overall build of a sandpiper with a rotund body and long legs.
  • Its feathers are black or dark brown along the back, tail, and wings.
    • There’s a small rufous patch just under the shoulders and the head and face are brown
    • Of course, the throat is stark white
  • Bobby’s beak and legs are black

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!

  1. Snow Leopard
  2. Snowy Owl
  3. Snowshoe Hare
  4. Arctic Fox

Length

  • 18 centimetres (7.1 in) long
  • How many white-throated dippers go into the thickness of Jostedalsbreen, Norway’s largest glacier?
  • Hint: The glacier is located in Vestland county in Fjord, Norway, and it’s not just Norway’s largest glacier, it’s the largest in continental Europe. The glacier covers 487 square kilometers. 
  • 3,333 dippers. Jostedalsbreen is 600 metres thick. 

Weight

  • 2.2 oz (62.3 grams)
  • How many White-Throated Dippers go into the heaviest shoes ever walked in?
  • Hint: The record was set by an American (heck yes) career record breaker named Ashrita Furman. Furman currently holds 531 records and has broken more than 600. The shoes were worn in Potter’s Field, London in 2010.
  • 2,349 dippers. The shoes were 146.5 kg (323 lbs).

Fast Facts

  • Diet: worms, aquatic insect larvae, beetles, clams, snails, frogs, and shrimp.
  • Behavior:
  • Range: Western and Southern Europe, Scandinavia, the British Isles, Russia, Near East (Turkey, Iran, a few Stans)
  • It’s Norway’s national bird 

Major Fact

If the White-Throated Dipper was a toy, he’d be relegated to the Island of Misfit Toys. 

The dipper loves to spend his days by running rivers and streams. You may find him perched on a rock that’s emerging from the water, where he will perform a small, bouncy dance that’s adorable to see.

These chubby little birds look like your typical garden seed eater. They don’t have the webbed feet of water fowl or the long legs of a stork. And yet they get most of their subsistence from the water. 

They may wade into streams to catch minnows or water bugs. But their aquatic activities don’t stop there. They will also fully submerged their little bird bodies underwater for some tasty morsels. 

They may hop in from a rock or the bank, but they may also dive in with the spirit and determination of an eagle. 

The strange sight of a small bird walking or diving into the water has created some legends about this feathered fisher. 

They are said to defy the laws of buoyancy by walking into a river and hopping around the river bottom without being swept away. However, this is an inaccurate assumption. 

They can stand on a river bottom when they need to, but they do so by gripping the bottom with their feet. When they move around underwater, they will swim like they’re flying. 

They have become so good at farming rivers and streams for resources that they don’t have to fly south with other birds. Some will fly south or descend to the lowlands of their regions, but wherever there is open running water, you may find dippers through the winter months. 

With winter habits of a dipper may vary on an individual basis, with some enjoying the snowy banks and crips streams and others seeking out warmer areas. 

Aquatic life seems to be inborn in dippers. Even young featherless hatchlings will dive into the water when threatened.

If you are one for nice serene nature documentaries, there are a ton beautifully shot white-throated dipper videos on youtube. I’ll link to a good documentary by a photographer named Gunner Dressler.

Ending: So stay anchored, go where the gettin’s good, and stay 10 steps ahead of the competition like Bobbing Fischer here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.