Monday, 14 February 2011

10 awesome animals you may not know much about (Part 1)

As someone who is environmentally concerned I am on occasion overwhelmed with the unrelenting awesomeness of nature! When this feeling builds up to an unstoppable level I feel compelled rant furiously about animals that I think are just wonderful, bizarre or downright awesome. So in no particular order are the first six of my top 10 animals that I think are ludicrously cool:

10) The Mighty Aurochs!

(Behold super cow...slayer of wolves)

Imagine a cow, but a few million times more awesome. Standing over 2 meters at the shoulder and weighing 1,000 kilograms, these mighty beasts originated in the over 2 million years ago in India and used to roam across the entire of Asia and Europe. Aurochs were tough, aggressive and had a stylish colour scheme (females preferring the elegant red and while males cool black with a white stripe). It was unfortunately us that destroyed the Aurochs, they were hunted for due to their territoriality and aggression and bred to produce the more manageable and puny cows we see today.

Even Julius Caesar was a fan: ‘...those animals which are called uri. These are a little below the elephant in size, and of the appearance, color, and shape of a bull. Their strength and speed are extraordinary; they spare neither man nor wild beast which they have espied.’

The last wild herd lived in the Jaktorów Forest, Poland, where they were protected as best they could. Eventually it was disease from wild cattle that killed off the last few. The last recorded live aurochs, a female from an original herd of 38, died only in 1627.

9) The invicible Tardigrades

(Cute...but tough)

Also known as the rather cute sounding water bears (or even moss piglets) these microscopic water dwelling segmented guys possess eight legs and are tougher than superman and the incredible hulk combined (not doing so much in the strength department though).

Called polyextremophiles by us science types these little guys can survive; temperatures close to absolute zero (that’s −273 °C, getting to the point where molecular motion ceases), a decade without a drink, 1000 times the radiation of most other animals (even more than the much talked about cockroach), being boiled in acid, 1200 times earth gravity (putting most dragon ball z characters to shame) and most surprisingly over a week in the unrelenting vacuum of space.

Basically when the world ends as we know it, these guys will be around and slowly bear crawling across the boiling, high pressure acid lakes of earth. Indeed as they seem to put up with being in outer space so well, they could be the first terrestrial species to successfully colonise other planets. They might be on mars right now plotting the fall of man!

8) The ingenious ant

(Slave maker ants, doing what they do best)

Everyone knows of ants, they annoy us at picnics, manage to invade kitchens on a routine basis and seem to live everywhere. What people don’t generally know is that ants are one of the most successful types of animals in the world.
There are 10,000 species of ants, and over one quadrillion ants alive in the world today (yes its a real number...1,000,000,000,000,000 and that’s nearly half a million per person).

Ants can lift 20 times their own bodyweight, can smell as well as a dog and live in giant social colonies. Yet these are just the generic ant abilities, ants produce a myriad array of specialist to do particular jobs.

Ants created warfare long before us. Army ants march all day in giant swarms, carrying all their supplies with them and consuming all in their path (including small mammals and birds), they even make camp every nightfall. Ants have huge battles between colonies, some spray formic acid, others develop warrior castes that have oversize mandibles, and the big head ant even has a specialist ant warrior with an unsurprisingly massive head that is used to seal off breaches in the colony defences. Some species of ants even use species of caterpillars as biological weapons, they hold them up like a bazooka, lightly stroke until primed and then release toxic chemicals onto invaders. The bullet ant has a sting so powerful it can cause the following symptoms in a human “waves of burning, throbbing, all-consuming pain that continues unabated for up to 24 hours”...nice to know!

Ants also created slavery. There is a whole genus of ants that are slave makers, they go off into other ants hives, snatch babies and then raise them as slaves in their own colony. Some species have become so dependent on slaves that they are unable to feed themselves and rely on slaves for all essential tasks.
Not that ants just do bad things! They also created farming, pesticides and fertiliser. Many ants farm aphids for honeydew, they either protect the aphids or capture them and relocate them to a defendable spot within the colony. The aphids graze on plant sap and the excess sugars come out their rear ends. Ants then consume the delicious aphid poo. The Lemon ant sprays a version of formic acid that works as a pesticide; it controls plant growth in the area it lives to enable it to find nest sites and to encourage growth of the plants that it feeds on. Leaf cutter ants don’t eat the leaves they cut; they pile them up as compost. Fungi then grow in the leaf cutter ants leaf pile, its these tasty mushroom treats that the ants then consume.
Ants are cool, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of their awesomeness!

7) The majestic oarfish

(Here be monsters...)

Oarfish are what lie beyond the edge of the map, growing up to 17 meters in length these scaly devils were once confused for sea serpents. Oarfish have silvery ribbon like bodies, sport the classic red dorsal fin complete with crest and sometimes reported as being able to give off electric shocks.

Virtually nothing is known about these mysterious desins of the deep, they have been filmed alive only twice. Nearly all of our information comes from fish in surface waters or washed up on beaches, coming from the depths to die. They are occasionally caught as a game fish, but are thrown back because they have gelatinous and slimy flesh that even Cthulhu would be proud of.

They basically look and act like proper sea monsters, loads of awesomeness points!

6) The chatty Beluga Whale

(If you dont love him you are dead inside)

The perfectly white sea canary, is a whale that can smile...yes a smiling whale. Belugas grow up to 5.5m in length, have long flexible necks (hard to tell in whale though!) and faces that allow them to have distinct facial expressions (all the better for mocking Ahab with!). They are highly social animals, spending long periods of time communicating and frolicking together. They have a very high pitch collection of calls and can be heard quite clearly, they also like to play by spitting water at each other and will continue this interaction with humans. They have a large bulbous facial melon (that is the technical term) that they can also manipulate to later the dimensions of their head. They possess the rare ability to swim backwards, something most whales just haven’t got to grips with.

Belugas are just cool guys and girls, they have been known to save human divers and one has even managed to learn a simplified language from a Japanese researcher, opening up the doorway to man cetacean relations. The sad fact is they are under threat, they are listed as near threatened globally, but several sub populations are critically endangered. They have been overfished in the past, the downside of Japanese/whale interaction, but are better protected now. Campaigns to restrict the existing quota of Belugas are being pushed by the US’s National Marine Fisheries service.

5) The real king of the jungle the Jaguar

(Our middleweight and puond for pound champ)

People say lions are the king of the jungle; it’s a lie, lions live in the Savannah. They spend all day lazing around; the real undisputed jungle king is the South American Jaguar. So, the Jaguar is the third largest big cat, many would say vastly outranked by lion and tiger alike. But they would be wrong!

Everyone knows it is wildly unfair to put two fighters of different sizes up against each other, which is why they have weight classes in boxing. So, we have to look at the data pound for pound, and it turns out the jaguar has one killer advantage, the strongest bite of all the big cats. The Jaguars bite with a force of over 8,900 Newtons (that would be the measure of force, not the actual guy with the apple). This is twice strength of the puny lion and second strongest of all mammals (spotted Hyena wins out I’m afraid). This is because the jaguar is too awesome to go for the jugular like most big cats, when it hunts its prey the Jaguar turns it up a notch and goes for the cranial smash. That’s right; nearly all jaguar kills end with the prey animal having its brain smushed.

A jaguar is a real slugger, not just a pretty boy that lays around soaking up tourist attention! The jaguar can drag a 360kg bull 8m up a tree and then grind even the strongest bones to dust in its jaw. Step over lion, the real king is here! (Also bonus points for coming in a variety of colours, from the classic spots, to the sleek and elegant melanised black panther)

(Who is saying I'm not cooler than a lion...)


  1. I always prefer to view the Newton scale as the the equivalent force of X number of Isaac Newtons. In that sense, I'd probably rather be bitten by a jaguar than a rampaging army of 17th century physicists.

  2. I also have a bonus ant fact that someone also pointed out to me:

    Ants also developed suicide bombers first! Malaysian ants internally combust under threat, causing their bodies to explode in a spray of boiling acid.