Sea Sponges are multi-cellular creatures that do not have a brain and organ systems and depend on the constant flow of water through their porous bodies to get the oxygen and food they need to survive. There are over 9000 recorded varieties of sea sponges in the world today and they can be found at various depths right from the seashore to the abyssal zone, which is the deepest part of the ocean.
Here are 5 fun facts about them:
Fossil records of sea sponges indicate that sponges first made an appearance on the Earth 650 million years ago. This makes them one of the earliest life forms on the planet.
There are currently 480,931 marine species known and on record and an estimated 2 million that are as yet unrecorded and unknown (i.e. there is not enough evidence – be it visual proof or physical proof – to classify any unknown animal as a distinct species) in all the lakes, seas and oceans of the world. It’s believed that 75% of the world’s entire marine population (480K + 2 Million) accounts for sponges.
Since they don’t have any age-rings (like in trees), it can be hard to accurately estimate the age of a sea sponge. But analysis of growth rates indicates that some sea sponges grow 0.2 mm (0.000656168 feet) per year. Based on this, sponges as small as 1 meter (3.2 feet) wide may be over 4500 years old!
A sea sponge in the Caribbean – Tectitethya crypta – produces two chemical compounds which can treat certain types of cancer and HIV. The chemicals – spongothymidine and spongouridine – have been used to develop the HIV drug Azidothymidine (AZT) which can be used to prevent mother-to-child and needle-to-skin AIDS/HIV transmission. The same chemicals have also helped create medication for leukemia and herpes.
The biggest debate since the time of Aristotle has been – “Are sea sponges plants or animals?” Although they resemble plants in appearance and remain permanently fixed to the spot they grow on like plants, sea sponges are not plants. Why?
– Sea sponges can’t produce their own food like plants and rely on stray organic matter to float into their pores via the flowing water.
– Sea sponges have an immune system like other animals which reject dissimilar cells if transplanted into them. Scientists need to use immunosuppressants to successfully transplant dissimilar cells into their bodies.
– Finally, some sea sponges produce and release sperm to indulge in sexual reproduction.
These characteristics makes sea sponges inherently animal-like.
Today, you can find a feminine hygiene product called “Menstrual Sponges” on the market. Basically, these are sea sponges that are used as re-usable tampons. In many parts of the world (especially in developed, first-world countries), sea sponges are a favoured alternative to toxic, non-biodegradable and expensive sanitary pads and tampons. Here is a link to theTop 5 most preferred sea sponge tampons.
Okapi have tongues that are 30 cms long, which is approximately double the length of a standard television remote and three times the length of the average human tongue.
Okapi diet is as diverse as it is colourful. Okapi eat over 100 types of plants & fungi, red clay and charcoal. This type of diet ensures they get all the nutrients they need to be healthy.
New born okapi don’t poop until they are four to ten weeks old. Researchers believe this may be a tactic to avoid drawing predators through smell.
Mother okapi speak to their babies in infrasound, sounds that are too low for humans to hear.
Okapi release a black tar-like substance from their feet, which leaves marks when they walk. This could be a way of marking territory.
Okapi are extremely shy and live in secluded areas of the forest. Apart from calf-mother pairs, they seldom interact with any species, including their own. Till the time they were discovered in 1901 by British explorer Sir Harry Johnston, Okapi were called ‘African Unicorns’ because people thought they were a myth and didn’t really exist. It was only the indigenous tribes living in the Congo-Ugandan region who had occasionally seen the animals till then. Now they are found only in the Congo and are the country’s national animal.
Barn owls screech. In fact, other than the tawny owl that hoots, all owls screech.
Barn owls never make nests. Instead, they lay eggs on their own pellets and droppings.
Barn owls are monogamous pairs who breed only once in their life, laying up to 7 eggs. If food supplies are very high, they may brood again, but with a much smaller nest of 2-3 eggs.
Barn owl chicks are the only birds in the world who sacrifice their share of the food to feed siblings who have less to eat or are ill and need more.
Barn owls have the most sensitive hearing of all animals on the planet and can hear sounds between 0.5 to 10 kHz. They have lopsided ears, with one ear positioned higher than the other. This difference in placement means the birds can listen for the most minute sounds both from the air and the ground simultaneously.
Barn owls were voted Britain’s favourite farmland birds in 2017. It’s not uncommon to find artificial nest boxes in homes across Britain, that are created specifically to encourage barn owls to nest.
Bearded dragons get their name from the folds of skin underneath their throats, which when enlarged with an inhale of air, appears like human beards.
If a bearded dragon loses or breaks its teeth in a hunt, a new set grows back within days. But unlike other lizards, the broken tail of the bearded dragon never grows back.
Baby bearded dragons weigh only 2 grams at birth. That’s the same weight as 5 paperclips!
Bearded dragons can change the colour of their skins if they are stressed out or need to change their body temperature. Lighter colours like yellow are taken on when they need to cool their bodies and darker colours like black, when they need more warmth. Bearded dragons choose fiery colours like orange and red to scare-off predators.
Bearded dragons have a very unique way of showing their submissiveness to a dominant male. They repeatedly wave one of their legs in the air in a counter clockwise direction, while placing the other three firmly on the ground. Imagine them waving hello to someone and you’ll understand what this gesture looks like. But if you want to see it, visit the link here.
In hot and dry places, bearded dragons will open up the spines on their back and collect any water that falls as rain. They then store this water in their back and use it for hydration by licking their backs occasionally.
Video: Two-headed baby bearded dragon. This happens due to a genetic mutation that fuses the embryos together. (viewer discretion is advised)
Magpies are scared of shiny objects. That’s why it’s advisable to place shiny buttons, coins and glassware near plants to prevent the birds from wreaking havoc on them.
The magpies tail is as long as his body, making him one of the longest birds in the avian world.
They are the only species of birds that can recognise themselves in mirrors. In fact, they are one of the only non-mammalian species apart from ants and manta rays to have this ability.
Apart from self-recognition, magpies can recognise other animals by their faces. So, if you’ve ever had a magpie attack you when you’re out running/cycling, get ready for a lifetime of dislike. These birds form friendships and enemy-ships (is that a word?) that last a lifetime.
Unrelated magpie males help widowed females raise the chicks of another male with great gusto, even if it means the female may leave him in the end.
There’s an old superstition that says the number of magpies one sees in a day can predict if there is bad luck in store or not. In fact, a famous nursery rhyme claims origin from this superstition – One For Sorrow. Here it is:
Adult elephant seals can grow up to 20 feet (6 meters) in length and weigh 8800 pounds (3991 kgs). That’s almost twice the length & weight of a midsize truck or SUV!
Elephant seals can hold their breath underwater for more than two hours straight.
Elephant seals get their names from their large trunk-like snouts called “proboscis”. These appendages grow only on males and develop during puberty. Males use this appendage during mating to attract females (using a series of snorts & grunts) and as shields to protect themselves during fights with competing males.
Elephant seals produce concentrated, jelly-like urine when there is a lack of drinking water in their surroundings. This concentrated urine helps them conserve water in the body for later use. But the moment they drink water, their urine becomes normal and more liquid-like.
Beachmasters are the alpha adult males in a group of male elephant seals. They are the ones who are the strongest of the lot and who possess the best spots on the beach. It is important for the beachmasters to create a big space on the rookery (the beach selected for breeding) if they wish to attract & control a large harem of females.
Elephant seals usually mate a few months before winter. This is to ensure that the pups are born during the ideal breeding season when the weather isn’t too cold or too hot. But, females have what is called a “delayed implantation”.
The normal gestation period for elephant seals is 9 months. However, due to the delayed implantation it takes up to 12 months for pups to be born. So, if the weather is not right for the pups’ birth or males haven’t established their territories on the rookery in time, this delayed implantation gives them sufficient time to create or wait for better breeding conditions. This is nature’s way of ensuring greater number of live births during the harsh winter.
Video: Epic fights and all the excitement of the breeding season
Fruit flies can’t stand carbon dioxide. It makes them woozy and unfocused.
Fruit flies’ chromosomes look like barcodes.
Fruit flies have 100,000 neurons, which is a very high number for flies and it is this large brain matter that makes fruit flies so intelligent.
Fruit flies love their beer and males often get drunk on both alcohol and fruit. Female fruit flies have been observed rejecting males who get drunk often. (here’s an addition: humans like the same beer and wine as fruit flies…go figure)
Fruit flies enjoy sex as much as the human whose house they are in. Turns out sexually-deprived males go into depression and look for alcoholic drinks/food, while their sated counterparts steer clear of alcohol.
Fruit flies are a boon to science. They have a whopping 14,000 genes in their bodies (humans have 24,000…so that should tell you something) and extremely fast life cycles (fruit flies can mature from eggs to adults in as less as two weeks), which makes them perfect for genetic experimentations. In fact, fruit flies have contributed to 6 Nobel Prizes between 1933 & 2017.
So, what did fruit flies help us understand?
Role of chromosomes in heredity
Role of radiation in genetic mutation
Control of embryonic development through genetic experimentation
What do French bulldogs, Scottish terriers, Clumber spaniels, German wirehaired pointers, Mastiffs and Pekingese have in common? 80% of their species are born via C-section!
Puppies are born blind and deaf at birth and only get their eyesight and hearing around the 7 week mark. They get their sense of smell at 3 weeks.
Puppy dog face is a real phenomenon. Research shows puppies deliberately make puppy eyes and cutesy expressions when they’re being watched by owners. This is a tactic to get attention, hugs and treats.
There are instances of identical twin pups, although they’re very rare. In 2016, an Irish wolfhound in South Africa delivered twin pups who shared the same placenta.
Puppies learn important lessons from other dogs and humans before 7 weeks of age. They must be introduced to humans and other animals by this age or they’ll never get over their fear of other creatures and become anti-social.
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is training a Weimaraner pup named Riley to find and hunt pests that may damage irreplaceable artwork.
Cheetahs are super-fast and can reach 112 kms/hour in just 3 seconds. Top speeds have been recorded at 120 kms/hour in 3 seconds!
A cheetah’s body is designed to run. The thick rudder-like tail, muscular legs, non-retractable claws, flexible spine and wide chest make it the ultimate lean, mean running machine.
There are only 7100 cheetahs left in the wild. The cheetah is on the Endangered Species List and is considered extremely vulnerable to extinction.
Ancient Sumerians, Egypt’s King Tut and the Mughal emperor Akbar trained thousands of cheetahs as guards and hunters for their royal houses.
(But this didn’t mean they could keep up with the Cheetah during chases and hunts. Take a look at this video which pits two of the fastest creatures on the planet in a race against each other, to know what we mean)
Pretty fun to sing isn’t it? And a wonderful sight it would be too. Especially in the wild.
Nature has her fair share of spectacularly beautiful animals and plants. Super colourful and oh-so-inviting, your only wish would be to touch the creature and feel it under your fingers. But do so and that may be the last thing you ever do.
If there’s one thing you need to remember about the wild, it’s that Colours = Poison.
Say hello to Aposematism
What do they call an animal that uses bright colours to ward-off danger? An aposematic animal of course. Aposematism is the biological process of using colours as signals to repel predators.
Animals brighten their skin pigments or even change their colours as warning to other animals not to cross their path. Plants, flowers, fungi and seeds use bright colours which indicate high levels of toxicity (which animals learn indicate ‘Don’t Eat’).
Aposematic animals & plants work in weird, but wonderful ways. While some are genuinely poisonous and use unique colours to their advantage, others are non-poisonous and mimic their more dangerous cousins to confuse and scare-off their predators, who otherwise may attack them.
But here you have below the list of 5 animals who really are poisonous and who use colour as a warning sign in the wild. Remember, they may look enchanting and you may want to touch them or pet them. But trust me, it’s better you stay away.
Now, without further ado, here are our top pics for pretty but potent animals in the wild:
1) Amazonian Poison Dart Frog
This one is most certainly the poster boy for ‘colorful but potent’ category in the wild (hence the feature image ;D)
Poison dart frogs are one of the most toxic creatures on land. Dart frogs don’t make their own poisons, but store the poison of the insects and smaller animals they eat. They then process these poisons and combine them to make a very potent toxin…something which can be severely painful for humans.
Local Amazonian tribes use the tree frog’s poison to coat their darts, which they use to hunt monkeys and birds. The most toxic of all Amazonian tree frogs is Phyllobates terribilis.
The Monarch Butterfly and the Pipevine Swallowtail store and use their prey’s toxin as a defence mechanism when they are older. Birds know they can be deadly to eat and avoid them. But other than a handful of these winged critters, most butterflies and moths aren’t poisonous. But the same can’t be said of their offspring.
Many caterpillars have a poisonous coating on their body, which protects them from being eaten by predators when they are young & helpless. While some poisons only knock the predator out for a few hours, others kill. A case in point is the formidable N’gwa or ‘Kaa caterpillar, which is found in Africa and whose toxin, according to researcher David Livingstone, which is a mixture of snake venom and plant toxin, has the capacity to kill an antelope.
3) Hooded Pitohui
Did you ever think a bird would be on this list?
The Hooded Pitohui, scientifically called Pitohui dichrous makes its home in the lush forests of New Guinea. The size of a dove, the Pitohui is the only documented poisonous bird in the world.
It’s toxin is a neurotoxin which numbs and paralyzes the victims. Luckily, this toxin isn’t fatal to humans, although the effects can take hours to wear-off. Sadly, the same isn’t true for its prey which are insects.
The Hooded Pitohui is part of a 3-species family, which also includes the Variable Pitohui and the Brown Pitohui, which are poisonous too, but not to the level of toxicity as their hooded cousin. The toxin has been found to be the outcome of the birds’ consumption of the choresine beetle. Such a nuisance is this bird to the surrounding tribes, it had been nicknamed Pitohui or ‘rubbish bird’ by the locals, which then was adopted as its official name.
Here’s an animal that can (and has) kill(ed) a human. Puffer fish are one of the most venomous animals on the planet and a single sting can bring down the mightiest of men. Often, human deaths occur when people unwittingly consume puffer fish organs in their meal. In animals though, its often a result of the puffer’s hunting or defence strategy.
The toxin the puffer fish contains is called Tetrodotoxin, which is a highly potent neurotoxin. The toxin slowly blocks all the neural transmitters in the body, essentially paralysing the victim, one organ at a time. At its peak, the Tetrodotoxin closes the wind pipe, slows down the lungs and stops the heart from working. Soon, the brain dies due to asphyxiation and lack of blood flow, killing the victim. Scientists believe Tetrodotoxin is 200 times more lethal than cyanide!
Want to know something even more unbelievable? The Japanese have a very special dish called Fugu which is made of puffer fish and is served during very special events. And guess what? Chefs deliberately leave a bit of the poison on the fish as an adrenaline-inducing treat for the guests.
5) Cone snails
They look harmless, inviting even. But pick one up and you’ll be stung faster than you can say ‘Oh no!’. Cone snails are another sea dweller that even humans need to beware of, if they don’t wish to be hurt or worse, dead.
Coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, cone snails contain a variety of neuro venoms (depending on the species) and can range in toxicity that’s akin to everything from a bee sting to a fatal hit. These snails shoot out harpoons, which are teeth-like organs which they use when hunting underwater. Any animal that has the misfortune of brushing against the cone snail will be the unfortunate recipient of the harpoon.
One species of cone snail that are extremely potent to humans is the Conus geographus or the Cigarette snail, whose toxin is said to be so quick-acting that victims have only time enough to smoke a small cigarette before dying.
Another gastropod that is poisonous – Nudibranch. You can read all about them here.
In the next article, we’ll focus on the Top 5 Most Colourful & Poisonous Plants and Fungi.