Episode 286 – King Cobra

“…and today we’re talking about the cold-blooded king of the jungle. But more on that later.”

Everyone knows that a true king must wear a crown. In the jungles of Southeast Asia, the kingly crown isn’t a mane but a hood. The King Cobra is an infamous monarch who uses his regal headwear to intimidate foreign powers threatening his domain. But those that don’t respect the crown always respect the bite. And that’s what it takes to maintain the throne in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 285 – Vampire Finch: Birdula

“…and today we’re talking about a ghoulish ground bird. But more on that later.”

Episode 284 – Common Rock Barnacle: Reachable Goals

“And today we are talking about sea critters with their own clear, plastic-looking straw. But more on that later.”

Humans are social creatures, but we aren’t the only ones. Gregarious animals hang out together, especially during mating seasons. But what if you are both sedentary and gregarious, which is another way to say a friendly home-body? The common rock barnacle is in such a predicament. How can they put down roots and make friends and more barnacles? Sometimes you just need to reach out to others in Life, Death, and Taxonomy. 

Episode 283 – Izecksohn’s Brazilian Tree Frog: Pollination Army

“…and today we’re talking about a slimy little yellow guy. But more on that later.”

So we know how animals make more animals, but how do plants make more plants? With the help of animals, of course! Whether it’s spreading seeds on the ground or getting animals to eat them, plants have a unique way of passively sowing their wild oats. But the real magic is in pollination. We all know bees are the masters of pollination, but Izechsohn’s Brazilian tree frog might just give them a run for their money. It all gets a little sticky here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 282 – Raccoons: Wiley Bandits

“…and today we’re talking about a master thief who is the king of trash mountain. But more on that later.”

A generalist has a general wish

To bandit with reckless abandon.

Bird eggs, crumb cakes, delicious fried fish…

Dining fine? Easier said than done.

A cunning mind will help raccoons find

The dishes to delight their fancy.

A challenging problem is no great bind

In their Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 281 – Winghead Shark: Wing and a Scare

“…and today we were talking about Captain America of the sea with similar headwear. But more on that later.”

Description of the Winghead Shark

  • Grey and white hammerhead shark.
  • The shark cuts a thin, torpedo-shaped silhouette with a large dorsal and caudal fin.
  • They have a pronounced hammer with a larger wingspan than your typical hammerhead.

Episode 280 – Bald Eagle: Warm Wings

“…and today we’re talking about what KJV onliest thinks ancient Hebrews made themselves bald as. But more on that later.”

To soar sorely is such a bore.

A raptor up high has a real chore.

Hunting for prey far down below,

Is a bald eagle’s typical M.O.

But how can they fly for so long,

Are their muscles really that tough and strong?

Or is it the rhythms of earth

That keeps them up–sailing the skies with mirth?

Flowing with convection is key

To flight in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Episode 279 – Alligator Snapping Turtle: Follow Your Throat

“…and today we’re talking about the swamp’s angriest stone. But more on that later.”

As if you needed another reason not to go traipsing around the swamps of the American South, the alligator snapping turtle brings a few hundred pounds of armored power to the equation. But swamps aren’t really known for having crystal clear water, so how can you see where you’re going and, more importantly, where that hillbilly noodler’s toe is? It’s all about using your throat here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


  • So have you ever seen an alligator snapping turtle? They have a big ol’ head and a thick shell with three rows of scales on their back. 
  • Kinda like a dinosaur, right? But one way to tell them apart from regular snapping turtles is by the raised plates and spikes on their shell. 
  • They usually come in gray, brown, black, or olive-green, and they can get pretty slimy from all the algae they hang out with. 
  • Oh, and check out those yellow patterns around their eyes – helps them blend in with the environment. 
  • And get this – they even have fleshy “eyelashes” arranged in a star shape! How cool is that?

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.


  • 31.8 inches long
  • How many alligator snapping turtles go into the longest-ever alligator gar?
  • Hint: The alligator gar is a large fish with a jaw filled with sharp teeth. Though they are sizable and sharp-toothed, they rarely pose a threat to humans and only threaten anglers that try to land them in boats. In fact, there is no confirmed report of a gar intentionally going after a human. 
  • 3.1 turtles. The largest one on record was 8 feet 5 inches (256.54 cm). 


  • 176 pounds
  • How many alligator snapping turtles go into the biggest piece of candy?
  • Hint: The largest candy was a piece of butterscotch that was made in Norway in 1997 by the candy company Nidar.
  • 20 turtles. The butterscotch was 1.6 tonnes (3,527 lb).

Fast Facts

The alligator snapping turtle is mostly found in the freshwaters of the southeastern United States. It can be found from the Florida Panhandle to East Texas and as far north as southeastern Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Iowa, western Illinois, southern Indiana, western Kentucky, Louisiana, and western Tennessee. 

Only female turtles usually venture onto open land for nesting purposes. In most cases, they are found in bodies of water that flow into the Gulf of Mexico. They particularly like shady areas of water with tree canopy overhead.

There is a non-native invasive population in South Africa. Finally, a Floridian animal is invading somewhere else instead of vice versa. 

They are opportunistic carnivores that eat fish, mollusks, carrion, and amphibians, but it is also known to eat snakes, snails, worms and other invertebrates, crawfish, insects, water birds, aquatic plants, other turtles, small alligators, and human fingers if given the express opportunity. 

They will hunt actively during the night but become ambush predators during the day, attracting fish to their mouths with two worm-like protrusions on their tongues.

Major Fact: Always Follow Your Throat

The Alligator Snapping Turtle lives in pretty murky waters most of the time, so like many animals, it rarely relies on its eyes to find prey.

Outside of the springs in the center, I know that Florida isn’t really known for having crystal-clear water.

Most animals that can’t use their eyes smell with their noses instead, but that’s not much of an option underwater.

We’ve actually seen some interesting ways that animals find their way around murky water. The star-nosed mole breathes out a bubble and sucks it back in to smell underwater. The electric eel uses electricity. But the snapping turtle uses something called gular pumping.

This is like the buccal pumping that air-breathing fish like the snakehead or mudskipper do, but it involves basically vacuum pumping water into a Soviet throat prison called the gular. The snapping turtle has chemosensory organs inside their gulars, allowing them to detect nearby fish and tasty dead things to eat.

Other animals, like some lizards, do some good ol’ fashioned gular pumping, but that is to help them breathe. The snapping turtle will get a big gulp of water and say; I think there’s some swamp meat that way.

So the snapping turtle literally smells with its throat (we talked about a bird that breathes through its bones two weeks ago, and now we’re smelling with our throats. What’s next?)

Ending: So nestle into a swamp bed, stick your tongue out, and practice your gular pumping like the alligator snapping turtle here in LDT.

Episode 278 – Tiger: Specter of the Sundarbans

“…and today we’re talking about the specter of the Sundarbans. But more on that later.”

How can black and orange go unseen

In a place of vertical green?

The world’s most immense panthera

Can hide among the Themeda.

Though it likes meat held up by hooves

You may have a taste it approves.

It’s a gross thought and not so nice,

But please take this piece of advice:

Avoid tiger gastronomy,

In Life, Death, and Taxonomy

Episode 277 – Horned Screamer: Dem Bones

“…and today we’re talking about a bird that would make a terrible nickname. But more on that later.”

In the valley of the dry bones, God showed Ezekiel his power over life and death by breathing life into the long desiccated skeletons that lay there in the valley. But for birds, breathing life into your bones has a different connotation. The horned screamer has an extremely unique skeletal structure, even for a bird. But, to fly, you need to use every system you have available here in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.

Description of the Horned Screamer

  • The horned screamer is a general ground-fowl shape with a chicken beak and stocky pheasant body.
  • They have black feathers with white bespeckled necks and breasts with white on their underside and legs.
  • They also have orange eyes.
  • As their name suggests, they have a horn (sort of)
    • Many birds have feather crests on the tops of their heads, but this horn isn’t made of feathers.
    • It’s actually attached to the skull. 

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! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4FZKMvHE8fI 


  • 84–95 cm (33–37.5 in) long
  • How many horned screamers go into the length of a set of the largest Asian water buffalo horns point to point?
  • Hint: The largest Asian water buffalo (horn-wise) was measured in 1955. Asian water buffalo are native to India, Nepal, Bhutan, and Thailand. 
  • 4.4 screamers. The largest horns point to point were 4.24 m (13 feet, 10 inches).


  • 3.5 kg (7.7 lb)
  • How many screamers go into the weight of the largest scoop of ice cream?
  • Hint: The ice cream was scooped in Cedarburg, WI in 2014. It was strawberry flavored and actually had the Kemps cottage cheese company brand carved into it. 
  • 391 screamers scream for ice cream. The largest scoop was 3,010 lb (1,365.3 kg)

Fast Facts about the Horned Screamer

The horned screamer can be found in Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana. They prefer marshes with abundant vegetation and water plants.

Screamers are so named because they make a loud call like we heard earlier. In Ecuador it’s called “el clon-clon” because the repetition sounds like an echo. 

They nest in shallow water. They anchor floating vegetation in the shallows to create a water bead. They lay around three eggs at a time.

They aren’t extremely active and live life surrounded by their primary food source, which are water plants. 

Major Fact: Dem Bones

Most people are aware that birds have hollow bones. Do you know why?

Galileo described bird bones as hollow and lightweight in 1638. So everyone has figured that birds have hollow, brittle bones.

A bat researcher named Elizabeth Dumont from the University of Massachusets Amherst. It turns out that bird bones are heavier than those of other animals based on body weight.

The skeleton of a 2 oz bird is heavier than that of a 2 oz mouse. Turns out that bird bones are actually denser than other animal bones on average (density being how much mass is in the same volume of bone. So bird bones are smaller and thinner, but they’re actually just as strong if not stronger.

Bird bones aren’t exactly hollow, it’s not like their bones are open tubes – that wouldn’t be great for keeping your bones from breaking a lot.

Their bones are more honeycombed with large air pockets with walls running throughout. These are called pneumatized bones. According to the Montana Natural History Center, the air sacs in their bones might even help with oxygen intake and allow air to flow throughout the body more easily. 

One bird breath goes further and does more work than a mammal breath, according to the royal society for the protection of birds.

Their respiratory system even extends to their bones by adding more oxygen to the blood and helping them have more energy for flight.

It actually turns out that bird bones being hollow do help them fly, but not because they’re light, but because they’re like secondary lungs.

And not all their bones are “hollow”. Large soaring birds like eagles and vultures have more hollow bones than birds that dive. Usually the largest bones are hollow and smaller outer bones are solid.

Penguins, loons, and puffins actually don’t have any hollow bones. Not having a bunch of air trapped in your bones makes it easier to dive underwater – go figure. Emus and ostriches have hollow femurs, but obviously that doesn’t help them fly. It may help them regulate heat.

Horned screamers actually lack special rib prongs that almost every other bird in the world has. They have the most pneumatic bones out of any animal. Even their outer bones are hollow and filled with air pockets. Even their skin is filled with tiny air sacs. So the horned screamer makes a distinct crackling sound when it moves.

Ending: So scream your heart out, keep your cartilaginous proboscis thingies to yourself, and always remember to breathe through your bones like most birds but the horned screamer in particular.