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5 Fun Facts About Elephant Seals

  1. 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!
  2. Elephant seals can hold their breath underwater for more than two hours straight.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

 

Bonus

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

 

 

 

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A harem of female elephant seals. Each harem can cross a 100 females.
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Just-born seal pup. Sea gulls feed on the placenta and broken umbilical cord of the newborns.
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A seal pup
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Seal pups feeding. The milk is extremely nutritious and helps the pups gain three times their birth weight in blubber, in under a month.

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

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5 Fun Facts About Fairy Penguins

  1. Also called Little Blue Penguins (due to their blue-coloured feathers), Fairy Penguins are the smallest penguin species in the world, standing at 1 foot in height at adulthood. That’s around the same height as a 2-year old baby.
  2. Fairy Penguins are the only penguins not found in Antarctica. They live in New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa.
  3. Fairy Penguins are monogamous during each breeding season and seldom mate with multiple partners during the same season. But once the chicks leave the nest, they may choose a different partner for the next season.
  4. Although they aren’t on the endangered species list, survival of the Fairy Penguins is solely dependent on humans. If it weren’t for the protected lands set aside for them, native predators would have long made this penguin population extinct.
  5. Fairy Penguins can be quite the gluttons, eating up to 2 kilograms of fish and krill a day. That’s a lot of food for birds their size.

Bonus

Fairy Penguins moult every February to grow thick, new waterproof feathers. Since they won’t have any feathers at this time, they are trapped on land unable to swim and unable to hunt for food for a week. To overcome this, these penguins eat double the usual quantity and put on weight to survive the week of starvation.

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A newly-hatched fairy penguin chick and an unhatched egg
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Fairy penguins in the wild

Video:

Newly hatched fairy penguin chick at Cincinnati Zoo

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Fruit Flies

Am not I

A fly like thee?

Or art not thou

A man like me?

(The Fly, William Blake)

 

  1. Fruit flies can’t stand carbon dioxide. It makes them woozy and unfocused.
  2. Fruit flies’ chromosomes look like barcodes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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)
  5. 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. 

 

Bonus

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
  • Role of the olfactory system
  • Activation of immunity in organisms
  • Molecules that control the circadian rhythm
  • Mechanism of cellular healing in severe wounds

 

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Fruit flies mating

 

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A fruit fly consuming fruit

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Ladybugs

  1. Ladybugs aren’t really bugs. They’re beetles – insects that chew solid food and have hard wings. In fact, they are (correctly) called Ladybird beetles in Europe.
  2. When a ladybug is under threat of danger, it releases a yellowish liquid called hemolymph from its knees. This liquid has a truly horrendous smell which deters predators from attacking.
  3. Ladybug moms lay two sets of eggs – one set which is hatched and the other set which acts as food for the new borns.
  4. Not all ladybugs are darlings. One species, the harlequin ladybug, indiscriminately kills all insects it comes in contact with by infecting them with a deadly parasite called  Nosema apis.
  5. Ever had wine that tasted like peanuts or asparagus (shudder!)? This was probably the fault of a ladybug. Sometimes ladybugs that reside in vineyards are accidentally collected with the grapes and crushed in the machines that extract grape juice for wine. The hemolymph released by stressed-out ladybugs taints the wine and gives it a foul flavour.

 

Bonus

Legend says that ladybugs first made an appearance in farms that were plagued by plant-eating insects, after farmers prayed to the Virgin Mary (The Lady of Sorrows) to release them from their sorrows. That’s where they get their name from – The Lady’s Bug. According to stories, the red colour of the ladybug represents the Virgin’s cloak and the seven polka dots, the seven sorrows.

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Ladybug

 

LB1
Ladybug caterpillar

 

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Different colours/species of ladybug

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

 

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5 Fun Facts About Hippos

  1. Hippos are one of the most aggressive animals on the planet and they ‘yawn’ to show their annoyance or aggression towards another animal. Hippos kill an estimated 500 people each year in Africa.  
  2. The ‘red blood’ hippos sweat is actually a natural sunblock and moisturiser which hippos secrete to keep their skin hygienic and healthy.
  3. Hippos rise every 3-5 minutes from underwater to take a breath of air. They do this even when they are asleep, rising automatically and submerging again despite being semi/unconscious.
  4. Hippos are extremely fast and can run at speeds as high as 30 kms/hour. This is faster than the average human!
  5. Hippo calves suckle from their mothers underwater by closing their nostrils and ears.

 

Bonus

Hippos are actually related to whales and porpoises and not other land-based organisms!

 

 

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Hippo mother and calf pairs stay together for 8 years, until the baby enters adulthood.

 

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Hippo mums gently nudge their babies to the surface for the first few days after birth, to help them swim to the top.

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

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5 Fun Facts About Plecos aka Suckerfish

  1. Plecos are a type of catfish.
  2. When we refer to plecos, we refer to the 138 species of fish that come under the  genus Hypostomus.
  3. The plecos’ skin may look slimy, but its texture is like that of a rocky armour.
  4. Plecos are gentle with most fishes except their own species, who they can be very aggressive towards.
  5. Plecos never reproduce in captivity, but females can lay up to 300 eggs in the wild!

 

Bonus

Veteran aquarium keepers never write or say aloud the plecos’ full name “plecostomus” because of an old superstition that says “speaking or writing the name will cause the fish to die”.

 

Pleco 2

 

Pleco 1

-NISHA PRAKASH 

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5 Fun Facts About Puppies

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Bonus

The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is training a Weimaraner pup named Riley to find and hunt pests that may damage irreplaceable artwork.

Here’s a cute video on puppy behaviour:

 

Pup 1

 

Pup 2

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

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5 Fun Facts About The Cheetah

  1. Unlike other big cats, cheetahs never roar. They communicate with each other in a series of low chirps and purrs.
  2. There are 36 different species of cheetahs in the world and they can be classified into 5 main categories.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. There are only 7100 cheetahs left in the wild. The cheetah is on the Endangered Species List and is considered extremely vulnerable to extinction.

cheetah 3

 

cheetah 2

 

Bonus:

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)

Usain Bolt vs the Cheetah

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

5 Technologies That Are Inspired by the Wild

Biomimetics, also known as biomimicry, is a branch of science that uses nature as inspiration to find solutions for human problems. One of the biggest uses of Biomimetics is using animal and plant defensive strategies as the foundation for technology. Here are 5 amazing inventions that are inspired by the wild.

  • Sharkskin and catheters

Catheters are so important for a variety of medical treatments. But for long, doctors had to contend with dirty-catheter-induced infections in patients. To combat this problem, scientists looked towards sharks.

Sharks have tiny, V-shaped sharp bumps on their skins called dermal denticles which prevent algae, barnacles and slime from collecting on the shark. This keeps them clean,  healthy and free from dermatological afflictions.

Shark denticles
Shark dermal denticles (Image Source)

Using the sharkskin concept, a company called Sharklet Technologies developed a specialized plastic wrap with sharp bumps along the surface, which could be coated on catheters. Once coated, the wrap prevented the accumulation of germs and pus on the catheter, reducing the threat of infections in patients.

These denticles also reduce drag in shark and help them preserve energy when swimming. That’s why swimming costume and bodysuit manufacturers are using the same concept to create efficient sportswear for athletes.

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Sharklet, the technology derived from the shark denticles (Image Source)
  • Tardigrades and live vaccines

Suspended animation is a concept that’s enthralled us for decades. Movies like Space Odyssey and Avatar have further rejuvenated our interest in the concept.  While humans are still experimenting with suspended animations, one animal has been living the concept for centuries.

Tardigrades are tiny, microscopic eight-legged animals that resemble arthropods. They’re called water bears or moss piglets because they spend their entire lives in water. If however, the water dehydrates, tardigrades find it difficult to survive. But instead of dying out, the tardigrades go into a state of suspended animation and remain in this state until their environment becomes re-hydrated. They do so by coating their DNA with a type of sugar-protein.

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Tardigrade (Image Source)

Scientists have used this concept to develop a method to preserve vaccines that expire in very short periods of time. They wrap the vaccines in sugar proteins similar to the ones used by tardigrades, putting them in a frozen state (without actually refrigerating them), which keeps them in perfect condition for up to 6 months. This ensures that the vaccines remain ‘live’ and ‘fresh’ much longer.

You can see tardigrades in the flesh here. If you want to find your own tardigrade, be sure to check out this video.

  • Butterflies and e-reader colour display

E-readers have renewed the habit of reading in many parts of the world. One of the best features that set e-readers apart from other technology is the colour display – light that enables users to read in extreme glare and in the dark.

It would come as a surprise to many that e-reader colour display has been inspired by butterflies. The iridescence of butterfly wings has inspired the development of the Mirasol, a full-colour e-reader that can churn out high-quality LCD-worthy colour pictures and text.

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Butterfly whose sheen wings inspired the Marisol (Image Source)

Butterfly wings shine in the sunlight by reflecting light off themselves, instead of absorbing and transmitting light. The display of the Marisol is based on this very feature. Sunlight is reflected off the screen ensuring that glare is reduced and the colours appear brighter and sharper; as opposed to in LCD screens where light is transmitted from within to produce colour.

  • Beetles and water harvesting

Found in the dry Namib desert in Africa, the Namib beetle is a master at collecting water. Living in an environment that faces a dire shortage of hydration, the beetle has evolved to keep itself hydrated even in the face of the most scorching summer.

The beetle’s shell is made of a flexible, waxy Teflon-like material which contains tiny grooves capable of trapping fog and condensing it into the water. The beetle indulges in what is known as ‘fog-basking’; where it turns it’s back towards the wind/fog and collects the fog in the grooves on its back.  The fog condenses into water and is pushed-off the slippery waxy-back and directed towards the beetle’s mouth.

Darkling beetle on the sand
Namib beetle (Image Source)

Following the beetle’s ingenious water collection methods, researchers have developed water collection nets and drinking bottles (Dew Bank Bottle) whose surface resembles the beetle’s grooved back. These technologies are used in the arid Chilean and Israeli desserts to collect water for indigenous residents.

  • Boxfish and automobiles

When Mercedes-Benz was designing its new state-of-the-art energy-efficient Bionic car, it derived its design inspiration from a small, uniquely shaped fish. The boxfish, found in the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean, is a fish that has a honeycomb-like triangular/squarish-shaped body. But its shape isn’t the only thing unique to the boxfish. Its body is covered with bony plates called ‘carapace’ which reduce the drag underwater, while the fish swims.

Image Source

This unique body structure with its almost snout-like mouth makes the boxfish extremely aerodynamic. Underwater currents move over the fish’s body, reducing turbulence and allowing it to move fast.

Mercedes-Benz applied the boxfish’s anatomical structure to their Bionic car which was quirky to look at and extremely aerodynamic. The car’s structure also made it extremely energy efficient. Today, the Bionic is one of the most talked-about cars.

NISHA PRAKASH