Venomous Terrors of the Deep

Dying horribly and alone never looked so fun!
Dying horribly and alone never looked so fun!

There are many, many dangerous things in the ocean. Whales, sharks, humans… But some of these creatures aren’t so big or so obvious. They are however very venomous, and very deadly. Here’s three of the worst for your viewing pleasure.

Someone needs a hug!
Someone needs a hug!

Probably the best known and most feared is the Box jellyfish. These translucent pain factories can be found in most coastal areas around the world. The most venomous and therefore most deadly incarnations can be found off the coast of Japan and, naturally, off the coast of Australia.

While the dimensions of a full grown jelly fish are somewhat diminutive(approximately 12 inches in diameter,) the tentacles of the wee beasty can grow to nearly ten feet in length. The important thing to keep in mind is that every inch of every tentacle is searing, stinging pain waiting to happen. Each one has half a million microscopic, harpoon-shaped nematocysts that inject venom.

Simply brushing against a single tentacle, even if it’s not attached to the jellyfish, will lead to thousands of teeny-tiny injections of venom. Victims commonly have a visible red or purple trail that marks exactly where the tentacle touched them. While most species of Box jellyfish will just leave you in serious pain for a few hours, one or two subspecies are extra spicy. The venom is potent enough to cause cardiovascular collapse followed by death in as little as five minutes.

Do NOT try to listen for the ocean.
Do NOT try to listen for the ocean.

Just as unassuming is the Conus Geographus, or the Cone snail. It is just as slow as any other snail, but it has a secret weapon. See, this snail has a craving for flesh. Hidden away in its mouth is a harpoon-like tooth that it literally shoots at passing fish.

Smaller fish are paralyzed nearly instantly. Once the meal has stopped throwing a fit, the snail then reels in its catch and slurps it down. Eventually the fishy bones and used harpoon comes out the other end. They are disposable, and the snail has many of them.

The largest Cone snails are the ones that are the most deadly to humans, the Conus Geographus chief among them. It is also known by its nickname, the “cigarette snail”. The idea is that you’d have enough time to smoke a cigarette before succumbing to the venom. The mode of death is paralysis that spreads to the lungs, thus suffocating you.

Speaking of swift deaths, that brings us to the third and final terror of the deep: the Blue-ringed Octopus. Yup, that’s the colorful little fellow in the main picture above. Isn’t he cute? Yeah, he’s also deadly as hell.

Found mainly off the coasts of Australia(surprise, surprise,) these relatively timid looking cephalopods feed mostly on small crabs and shrimp. The octopus attacks like most octopi do by grasping the victim in its tentacles and stuffing it in its mouth. The difference here is it also gives the crab a healthy dose of life-ending venom.

The octopus turns those fun colors when it’s scared and/or POed. This, coupled with its relatively small size (around six inches) may leave you inclined to play with the cute widdle squiddy, but don’t be fooled! The worst part about a bite from one of these critters is that you may not even know you’ve been bit.

The bite is painless, so you might not even bother to surface right away. That sucks, because you start to be paralyzed a minute or two after the “attack”. Now you have no way to wave for help as the venom steals away your ability to breathe. You won’t even be able to flip off the octopus as you succumb to the venom and drown.

Happy snorkeling!

Ancient Animals

He might be slow, but he'll outlive your grandchildren.
He might be slow, but he’ll outlive your grandchildren.

Humans have a fascination with numbers, especially large numbers. Hell, this website has largely been patterned around large things, tall things, old things… That’s a big one. People are fascinated with how long things live. Spurred on by the fear surrounding our own mortality, we seek out other living things that have proven to be exceptionally long lived.

One interesting thing I discovered while doing research for this entry is how often longevity records are questioned. Why lie about how long some creature lived, anyway? It’s not like you get some sort of special reward for finding a really old animal, outside maybe a couple paragraphs in National Geographic. Personally I’d be ripped to find out that an animal with a brain one-third the size of mine somehow managed to live for two centuries.

Whatever the reason may be, we’re always looking for the oldest something. I could have blown your mind with the oldest living sea sponge (they’re the longest living, well, anything, really) or the oldest living tree(oh yeah, I already did.) Instead of going to extremes, I decided to pick out the one land creature and the one waterborne creature that are both the longest lived and actually have spines and the ability to move.

The mighty ocean brings us the Bowhead whale. These 60-plus foot long, 75-ton behemoths hang out mostly in arctic and sub-arctic waters. They’re absolute brutes, lacking a dorsal fin, but having a thick humped back. They use their strength and size to bust through surface ice in order to breathe. Despite their brutish appearance and the fact that they have the largest mouth of any animal period(your sister’s mouth not withstanding,) they feed mainly on tiny 1 millimeter sea life.

Those teeny critters they eat must be low-fat or something, because Bowheads are incredibly long-lived… probably. The most common measure of age used for captured whales have been the age of harpoons and spearheads lodged in them. I told you they’re tough! The toughest, and possibly oldest, had the head of a harpoon embedded in its neck when it was caught in 2007. That harpoon dated to 1890. This and other research shows this species of whale could live to be 150 to 200 years old.

It’s usually pretty hard to surpass sea creatures for anything if you are a land animal, but the Aldabra Giant Tortoise has this game locked up. They come appropriately enough from the Aldabra atoll in the Indian ocean. Their exceptionally long necks and size make them excellent foragers. These immense turtles average over three feet long and around 250 pounds.

The real surprise about these tortoises is that they are actually pretty agile. They’ve been known to support themselves on their hind legs in a bid to reach foliage on a tree. They can also manage a half-run when threatened or excited and don’t appear concerned with taking risks. This led one biologist to refer to the Aldabras as the “ninjas” of the turtle world. Large ninja turtles… huh. That could make for a good kids’ show.

Okay, so how far can these large, mutant-like ninja turtles make it? Well again it can be difficult to verify ages, seeing how these turtles tend to seriously outlive their handlers. The Aldabra believed to be the oldest lived to a ripe old age of 255. Adwaita was believed to have been born circa 1750. Jonathan the tortoise is now believed to be the oldest living turtle, aged 182 and still going strong. You should be so lucky.

Prodigious Plant Life

Both those kids were gone and the plant was burping like, three seconds later.
Both those kids were gone and the plant was burping three seconds later.

A few months ago I wrote about how awesome plants can be. Well, recent research shows that plants can be incredibly terrifying as well. How can something that can’t even move invoke such terror in your incredibly awesome narrator? Here’s three damn good examples.

Let’s start with that comically over-sized flower up yonder. That’s an example of Rafflesia arnoldii, better known as the CORPSE FLOWER(dun, dun dunnnn!) Found primarily in the rain forests of Borneo and Sumatra, the Corpse Flower grows to an average of three feet across and weighs as much as 24 pounds. Just a big, colorful flower with an unfortunate name, right?

Wrong! It didn’t come across that name by accident. The big red flower appears when the plant is ready to reproduce, and that’s when a terrible smell starts pouring out of it. The plant releases a scent that smells like rotting flesh to attract flies to pollinate it. As a final insult, the plant can only survive by attaching to and feeding off of other plants, usually the Tetrastigma vine. First it leaches off you and then it starts stinking like crap. I’m usually for preserving rare species, but this one… Yeah, no.

At least the Corpse Flower is relatively unobtrusive(save for the wonderful odor.) Bamboo is a different story altogether. Don’t get me wrong, bamboo has many uses, ranging from culinary to construction. It’s been used to make everything from paper to musical instruments. Nowadays it’s mostly known as an ornamental plant.

They're watching... plotting...
They’re watching… plotting

Part of the reason it’s so popular is also because it’s a hardy plant. Some species can survive down to 18 degrees f. It also grows insanely fast. Some species of bamboo can grow at a rate of 35 inches a day. You can literally go to bed one night, get up in the morning, and find a new three-foot tall bamboo stalk in your garden.

Bamboo can also kill. Rumors persist that bamboo shoots have been used to torture and kill prisoners. The victim is tied to the ground over a bamboo sprout. The plants grow so strongly and swiftly in the first days of their life that it literally stabs its way through the victim in its search for life-giving sun. Bamboo ain’t nothing to mess with, yo.

This final plant makes bamboo look like your slobby stoner college roommate. You know, the one who had the lazy eye? Yeah, that one. Anyway… Let me introduce you to Kudzu, the creeping menace.

That's kudzu... It ate a HOUSE.
That’s kudzu… It ate a HOUSE.

Kudzu was introduced in the United States from Japan as an ornamental bush that could double as a shade plant. It was also marketed as a handy way to stop soil erosion. It stops a lot more than soil erosion, as it turns out. It also stops all native plants from existing. The plant covers and essentially suffocates other plant life, thus killing it. It also grows like your uncle at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Across the US, it’s been growing at an estimated 150,000 acres per year.

Much like a zombie, the key to killing kudzu is to go for the head. Called the crown, it’s the ball of hatred immediately above the roots, and from which the vines of much evil grow. Unlike zombies, the destruction of the crown must be complete. If even a tiny bit of the crown remains, the plant will rise from the dead like a… you know. Maybe it’s time for another Walking Dead spin-off…

Opposite Day: Small Breeds, The Barnyard Edition

Dawww! Tiny horse! What were we talking about?
Dawww! Tiny horse! What were we talking about?

Oh yeah, we were talking about small barnyard breeds! I thought it was about time to do another cute animal post, so I decided to do a pseudo-sequel to the small cat and dog breeds post from the original opposite day. Today we look at a selected assortment of tiny barnyard animals, starting with…

The Falabella Horse – Widely recognized as the smallest breed of horses in the world, the Falabella breed averages a paltry two and a half feet tall at the withers. While a direct comparison is hard to make due to the variety of breeds, this is approximately half the height of a typical riding-breed horse. Newborns can be as small as twelve inches tall at birth.

The breed has roots going back to Argentina in the 19th century. A formal breed registry wasn’t formed until the 1940s, however. These humble horses are intelligent and easily trainable. They are often used as guide animals and/or used to pull small carts.

Stampede!
Stampede!

Ouessant Sheep – These mini-sheep hail from the island of Ouessant (appropriately enough) off the coast of Brittany France. Even the boy sheep only average about 19 inches at the shoulder. So your crotch might be safe, but I’d worry about your kneecaps.

These cute little things are so small that its’ very rare for a female to carry more than one sheep at a time. The island where they originate from has sparse vegetation. Natural selection for smaller (therefore less hungry) sheep resulted in the mini-herds found on the island.

Not a baby cow.
Not a baby cow.

Dexter Cattle – While not strictly the smallest cows in the world, these diminutive bovines are among the smallest cattle breeds. Adult specimens come in at a squat three feet at the shoulder and weigh 600-700 pounds. In comparison, a Holstein (milking) cow averages around five feet at the shoulder and about 1,250 pounds.

Dexters were developed as a breed in Ireland and brought to England in 1882. They all but disappeared in Ireland, but were continued as a pure breed in England. Their numbers continue to grow with the breeds popularity.

The cows are considered a friendly, dual-purpose breed. They can be raised for beef or milk production and are usually bred in favor of one trait or the other. I suppose the ones raised to be beef probably aren’t as friendly as the ones that get their teats pulled on all the time, but I could see it going either way. Their meat tends to be marbled and darker than typical beef product, and their milk richer in flavor.

Maybe the beef and milk is richer because it’s… condensed? Yeah, I went there. Go pet a mini-cow already.

One Tough Mother

No, seriously, don't mess with mama.
This is one mama you definitely don’t want to mess with.

I heard today people were celebrating something. It had something to do with women I think. I’m not sure. Anyway, I had this weird idea to specifically focus an article on mothers… Specifically specifically cheetah mothers.

The first thing to understand about the toughness of cheetah mamas is that they are effectively single mothers. Cheetah daddies eff right the hell off after knocking up the mommies and are never seen again. They don’t have to wait long for company, however.

Gestation for cheetahs is a speedy three months. An average of three to five cubs plop out of mama and immediately become dead weight. She’ll literally drag and carry them from place to place for six weeks before the little freeloaders start walking there themselves.

Throw a capital F on freeloaders, too. It will be no sooner than six months before the little ones will start scoring their own small kills. Mama’s more… special cubs can take up to fifteen months to figure this whole killing thing out!

And providing for that many hungry mouths is no mean feat. Mother cheetah accelerates up to between 40 and 60 mph to capture the next family meal. The act is extremely draining, and can leave mommy dearest panting for up to an hour before she recovers enough to enjoy her meal.

Even then, she might not get to enjoy the fruits of her labor. Larger predators such as lions and especially hyenas may attempt to steal the kill, or even injure or kill one or more of her cubs. The mother cheetah will almost invariably allow the kill to be stolen in exchange for the safety of her and her cubs.

This grueling schedule continues for the mama for an average of thirteen to thirty months. The boys of the family, much like human boys, will wander off to form their own groups and find some fine booty to plunder. The girls will sometimes linger with mama, but eventually drift away as well.

Unlike human boys and girls, they stay away, abandoning the mama cheetah forever. All that work and mother cheetah is left to her own devices. She may eventually be rolled into another group only to be impregnated and left alone once again.

Now if you ask me, that’s one tough mother.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Ocean Dwelling Dynamos

Pictured: Your mom
Pictured: Your mom

The seven seas are teeming with life. The last true undiscovered country on Earth, the deepest depths of the ocean may yet hold immense lifeforms we’ve never seen. Thanks to the buoyancy water affords to those creatures that live in it, the oceans are home to the largest animals in the world.

The blue whale blows away any challengers by a large margin. Full-grown specimens can top out at upwards of 100 feet long and can weigh up to 150 tons. To give this animal’s size some perspective, its heart alone weighs an average of 1,300 pounds. That’s around the same weight as a full grown cow. What could possibly compete with that?

Well, if you prefer your gigantic water dwellers sans vertebrae, then you can always turn to the colossal squid. Best estimates put adult specimens between 40 and 45 feet long. That puts it at about half the size of a blue whale. Humpback whales should take note, though. They are about the same length, and are known to have scars that are believed to have been caused by the colossal squid.

A tad bit squishier, and a lot less deadly, is the lion’s mane jellyfish. The largest discovered was a mere 7.5 feet in diameter, but sported tentacles that measured an impressive 120 feet long. That’s longer than the blue whale up there. Despite it’s impressive size, its sting would be no more annoying than a mosquito bite to our other two seafaring giants.

Plants Are Awesome, Too

Poor conversationalists, but very beautiful.
Poor conversationalists, but very beautiful.

It occurred to me that I’ve been giving animals a whole lot of loving while completely ignoring the leafy side of the coin. Plants can be just as lovable as puppies and kittens! Well, mostly… Regardless, here’s to some mighty massive plants!

Trees are an obvious place to start when it comes to record size and staying power. These plus-size plants manage to reach their epic heights by growing over the course of dozens, if not hundreds of years. But just like with animals, there’s always overachievers.

The current oldest living tree is Old Tjikko in Switzerland. It was born approximately 9,550 years ago. To put this into perspective, it was born a mere fourteen years after Atlantis sank into the sea(according to legend.) As is often the case with the geriatric set, this tree’s a little on the short side.  The ancient specimen stands a paltry sixteen feet tall.

Not surprisingly, the record for tallest living tree goes to Hyperion, a redwood tree in Northern California. It stands at an astounding height of 379 feet, equivalent to a 31-story building. Despite it’s amazing stature, Hyperion is believed to be between 700 and 800 years old.

So we have the oldest, and the tallest, but what about the largest overall?

That record goes to General Sherman, a 2,100 year-old Giant Sequoia that can be found appropriately enough in Sequoia National Park in California(what is it about that state, anyway?) The good General is a good hundred feet shorter than Hyperion, but is over 27 feet wide. The bark itself is believed to be up to two feet thick in places! The estimated weight for this behemoth?  4,000,000 pounds.