Category Archives: New Species!

Scientia Pro Publica #46

Scientia Pro Publica

Alright you lot, apologies for hibernating for the last couple of months. For those of you who don’t know (ie. who aren’t on twitter), I’ve been working at Australian science magazine, Cosmos, since June, and it’s keeping me very busy and happy. But don’t give up on old RP completely – we’ll be back very soon…

That aside, I’m super-excited to be able to host the 46th edition of Scientia Pro Publica: a rotating bi-monthly compilation of the best blog writing targeted to the public about science, medicine, the environment and technology. And if you a) think taking 5000 bees in a suitcase on a plane is a great but pointless idea, b) think strapping a prawn to a treadmill is a great but pointless idea or c) need proof that chimps are nothing like humans because you hate them and don’t want to look at them ever as much as I do – prepare to be enlightened.

Or don’t, I don’t know, it’s not like it’s going to change anything. Either way it’s just going to end with a, “Huh. Cool.” anyway, which is pretty much ideal if you ask me.


So first up: BEES ON A PLANE

The team over at More Than Honey – The Making of a Bee Documentary tell the amazing story of German biologist, Max Renner – student of the famous bee expert, Karl von Frisch, – who somehow stuffed 5000 bees into a wooden suitcase in 1955 and boarded a plane from Paris to New York to see how their tiny internal ‘bee clocks’ would cope. Do bees get jetlag? What kind of decor does a Bee Room need?  Click to find out…

So bees can count to four and speaking of counting and segways, The Questionable Authority blog destroys the dreams of school kids everywhere by explaining why Conrad Wolfram’s idea proposal to let computers do the calculations in maths class instead of the kids doing it themselves just won’t work. Fifteen-year-old me is devastated. And continuing on our mini maths jaunt, MarkCC from Good Math, Bad Math explains what obfuscatory mathematics is and precedes to stomp all overits use to argue against the value of vaccination.

Things are getting characteristically philosophical over at Traversing the Razor, where that giant cat overlord oversees a post to celebrate Carl Sagan Day (8th November) with an excerpt from Pale Blue Dot (1994). If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an incredible read. The giant cat overlord would also like you to ponder the science versus the products of science question while you bask in his hypnotic gaze.



Look at him. He’s the weeniest. But being weeny doesn’t mean he can’t kill things. GrrlScientist from Punctuated Equilibrium explains how the recently discovered eleutherodactylus iberia – the Cuban mini-frog – evolved to be highly toxic due to its very specific diet.

Meanwhile, not-so-poisonous but a whole lot more deadly if you’re a harbour seal – the Pacific sleeper sharks have been found to be controlling certain parts of its ecosystem with fear. That’s just the kind of thing a shark would do, only sleeper sharks aren’t known for eating seals. Chuck from Ya Like Dogs explains the science of keeping ’em in line – fear style.

Also frightening are chimps. Don’t even get me started. Now, I specifically asked for no chimp-related submissions because I don’t want primates infecting this blog, but Norman Johnson from Watching the Detectives compromises by reviewing Jeremy Taylor’s Not a Chimp. If I’m going to have to read about chimps, it helps that I’m reading about how unlike humans they are.

Emily Willingham from The Biology Files introduces us to microchimerism. And no, this isn’t some awesome condition that makes you develop the parts of a lion, a goat and a snake and then makes you really really small. I know, I’m disappointed too. What it does mean is that we can carry a few cells from someone else around with us, meaning our parents are literally with us all the time. Again, frightening.

Now I hope you all remember THIS:

It gets me every single time. But now thanks to Andrew from Southern Fried Science, we now know why that prawn is unwittingly scrambling for its life. You’ll also find out about other scientific experiments that don’t harm the animals (even the Pigeon’s Obstacle Course of Doom and Baby Seal Waterboarder) but can tell us so much about them.

Meanwhile Andrew Bernardin hits us with some null news over at 360 Degree Skeptic, discussing recent null experimental results involving fish oil and green tea and why they are important, and Bob O’Hara from Deep Thoughts and Silliness takes a look at a paper on research fraud, and find the Americans aren’t as bad as the paper made out. So America: 1, Journal of Medical Ethics: zero.

Last up – Mike McRae from The Tribal Scientist talks about the real education gap – between science and maths communicators and their students – and makes some really important points, and Bill Litshauer from explains how the seasons work, in terms that even I can understand. (Shhhh….)

Now I’ll leave you with James Byrne from Disease of the Week!’s post about gut flora. It’s gross. There are gross bodily functions, gross bodily emissions, gross babies eating gross bodily emissions…. but it’s also a great read.

Thus ends my part. And now I’m going to read something really really stupid to balance all of this out. Or watch cat videos. I’ll just do that. If you want to get involved in the next Scientia Pro Publica, keep an eye on the website for submission details.

– bec



Filed under Animals, Insects, New Species!, Random Rants, Science, Sea Creatures, Video

That’s Just Gross, Leviathan melvillei.

leviathan eating whale

The discovery of a giant sperm whale with 40 centimetre-long teeth has shed new light on the types of predators that once terrorised Miocene waters 12 million years ago. Named Leviathan melvillei, after Herman Melvill and his formidable white whale, L. melvillei grew to between 13 and 18 metres long, about the size of a modern sperm whale, but with one important difference – those huge four-inch-wide teeth.

Prior to this find by a team of Belgian palaeontologists on the southern coast of Peru, the only known whales of this size have been suction feeders, such as baleen and sperm whales. Without any functioning teeth in their upper jaw, these whales generate a powerful flow of water to draw in their prey (usually deep-sea cephalopods) and use small, lower jaw teeth to hold and puncture them.

L. melvillei, however, with its robust jaws filled with interlocking teeth the length of prairie dogs, appears to have been a raptorial feeder which, like the modern killer whales (Orcinus orca), would hunt down large prey, inflicting deep wounds and tearing large chunks of flesh out of their bodies. The team suggests that this prey was likely to have been smaller whales.

“We think that medium-size baleen whales, rich in fat, would have been very convenient prey for Leviathan,” said Oliver Lambert, the palaeontologist who discovered the fossil. “With its three-metre-long head, very large upper and lower teeth… this represents one of the largest raptorial predators and, to our knowledge, the biggest tetropod bite ever found.”

Somewhat similarly, another recent discovery has found that the Pristionchus pacificus, a common bacteria-eating worm, will grow a new mouth and eat other worms when starved. “Environmental factors dictate the kind of mouthparts formed by roundworms,” said Ralf Sommer, Director of the Department of Evolutionary Biology at the Max Planck Institute.

If a larval P. pacificus grows up in an environment with an abundant supply of bacteria to feed on, it develops a narrow oral cavity and very small teeth-like denticles. However, if it grows up in a heavily-populated area with limited food sources, the larvae will develop a much wider mouth filled with larger, stronger “teeth”.

This effect is also triggered by one of the worms’ pheromones, which at times of high population density, exists in increased concentrations. Situations in which overpopulation is coupled with a lack of food sees the “switching on” of a particular gene in P. pacificus , causing the development of different mouthparts.

This done, the worm will bite a neighbouring worm, tearing a hole into its side to devour its insides as they come oozing out (see image below). Unfortunately for the victim, Caenorhabditis elegans – a smaller, closely related worm – it doesn’t possess the same kind of “teeth” to defend itself with.

Yeah, so I don’t know about this. I’m not one to judge, but a whale who eats other whales? Eeesh… I mean, everyone will be out to dinner somewhere, Leviathan will be late as usual because he knows no one is going to start without him because they’re all terrified he’ll sit on them, which means they’ll probably end up inhaling half a dozen cocktails each to tide themselves over while they wait.

Then finally, finally Leviathan will saunter in, but only Megalodon will have the nerve to be like, “Dude, where the shit have you been?”

“What? I don’t know, at home, oh and the supermarket. I’d completely run out of tea. And you know how I never have any tissues? Well I–”

“‘Alright whatever, let’s just order.”

Easier said than done though, because everyone will be so drunk by this stage, having downed a ridiculous amount of mojitos on very empty stomachs, that the clupeid fish will barely be able to stop giggling long enough to say anything coherent, while the giant squid will be like, “…AND THEN HE ATE IT!! What? Oh I’ll have the crab. Wait, wait, have you guys heard the one about the two sea cucumbers in the nightclub bathroom? …THOSE AREN’T CUVIERIAN TUBULES…!”

But then it’s Leviathan’s turn to order and he’ll be like, “I’ll have the baleen whale, thanks,” and all at once the entire table will go dead quiet, except for some horrified gasps and monacles tumbling from faces and smashing on the floor, and Megalodon will whisper urgently from across the table, “For Christ’s sake, you can’t order whale.”

“What? Why not?”

“Because you’re a whale.”


So? It’s perverse! There’s a word for people like you, you know.”

“But I eat whale all the time!”

“Well if I’d known that, I never would’ve invited you. Just order something else, people are starting to leave.”

The longfin mako sharks cancel their orders and head for the door.

“Nice to see you again. Sorry. Here, take a menu.”

“Fine. I guess I’ll have the octopus then.”

The giant octopus sitting three seats down from him will throw seven strawberry daiquiris in his face whilst motioning at the waiter, “Seven strawberry daiquiris please.”

The giant squid will suddenly fall off his chair mid-punchline.

“Actually, make that six.”

“But seriously, you guys,” the giant squid will be slurring as he straightens himself out. “You think this is bad, I once had drinks with a worm who told me he ate his wife for dinner because the delivery guy got stuck in traffic and he was too lazy to get off the couch.”


Links: Not Exactly Rocket Science for more on Leviathan melvillei
SV-POW! for more on why Leviathan melvillei might need a new  name already
COSMOS Online for more on Pristionchus pacificus.

Both papers were published in Nature. Access them here and here respectively.

Images courtesy of C.Letenneur and the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology / Andreas Weller.

– bec


Filed under Animals, Fossils, Museum Stuff, New Species!, Science, Sea Creatures

Hey Polychaetes, Let’s Play the Silence Game Till the Next Whale-Fall, Okay?


In her recently-published dissertation for the University of Gothenburg, Swedish doctoral researcher, Helena Wiklund, identifies nine new species from two families of polychaete worms (Ophryotrocha and Vigtorniella) found on whale remains in Scandinavian and Californian waters. Polychaetes, a common type of marine annelid (or segmented worm), are found extensively across the ocean floor, and can be free-living grazers or attached to other organisms. All but one of the particular species Wiklund has concentrated on are free-living grazer worms who are adapted to the very specific habitat of a whale-fall, feeding off the bacteria that form filamentous mats over the surface of decomposing whale bones.

When whales die and sink to the ocean floor they provide a vast amount of food for a variety of marine life. The decomposition of a whale carcass takes place over three stages which involve specific types of organisms attending to different parts of the carcass. The initial stage of decomposition involves the larger flesh-eating organisms such as hagfish, sleeper sharks, and crustaceans, who pick the decaying flesh away from the skeleton. The second stage involves great numbers of macrofauna, like these newly-discovered and highly-specialised species of 2-centimetre-long polychaetes, gathering in the sediment that falls on and covers the bones, and the final stage sees the polychaetes feeding off the bacterial mats that form across the surface of the bones.

What Wiklund has also discovered is these species of bacterial mat-dependant polychaetes can also survive on sunken wood and beneath man-made fish farms, both the kinds of environments where concentrated amounts of nutrient-rich sediments can settle into these bacterial mats.

While whale-falls can feed many generations of polychaetes over several decades, they are few and far between, and just how the worms are able to travel from one carcass to another has posed a bit of a challenge to Wiklund. The Ophryotrocha larvae develop very quickly, the juveniles reaching adult form within days of hatching, making long-distance dispersal unlikely, as they can’t spend months traveling on ocean currents to the next whale-fall without the proper nutrients. However the Vigtorniella species have long-living larvae which can take up to nine months to reach adult form, and thus long-distance dispersal is a possibility.

Ophryotrocha scutellus worm

Now I can totally hear a bunch of migratory birds being like, “So the Vigtorniella larvae travel long distances. Whatever! We do that all the time, but are people always discussing how awesome that is? No!” And of course, they’re right, but we do have to be mindful of the fact that these are kids – or larvae, if you prefer – who are traveling long distances together, and that they make it to the next whale carcass at all makes it absolutely worth mentioning. I’m not suggesting that things are likely to decline into a sort of Lord of the Flies-like bloodbath, but it’s not like there are any adults around to be like, “Stop hitting your sister!” and “Didn’t I tell you to go before we left? We’re not stopping for another half an hour, so you’re just going to have to hold it in!”

Like, the journey would probably start out okay, the larvae all excited about finding a new stash of delicious whale bones to supply them with a multitude of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and for a while barely a word would be exchanged between any of them because they’re all too busy playing Petz or Lego Batman or something on their DS. But whale-falls are pretty rare and while the DS battery life is alright, it certainly isn’t going to last an entire trip, and you just know that someone will have forgotten to recharge theirs the night before. So one of the larvae will suddenly be like, “UGH!” pointedly slamming her DS shut so that everyone close by will hear her, and she’ll find one of her sisters and be all, “Hey, so my DS just died. Can I have a go of yours quickly?”

And her sister will be like, “Umm no way. I don’t want you using up all my battery life too.”

“But mum said we have to share!”

“Mum said to charge yours before we left.”

“I HATE you!”

“I hated you FIRST!”

And that’s just on the first day. Pretty soon it will degenerate into something along the lines of:

“I’m BORED. My pygidium hurts, and I need to go to the bathroom REAL BAD.”

“OH MY GOD… now I have to go!

“Ugh. Prudence, will you please tell Alex that it’s not my fault that she needs to pee and maybe she should stop trying to copy everything I do, and yes I’m still not talking to her because of that thing she said about how I always snort when I laugh which is so. not. true, because I know what I sound like and I don’t sound like someone who snorts when they laugh.”

“FINE. Umm Prudence, can you please tell Jessica that I said, “No offense,” before I said the thing about snorting, and Jessica said, “Okay.” So it’s not my fault she got offended when she already promised she wouldn’t get offended before I even said it.”

“Prudence, will you please tell Alex that just because she said, “No offense,” it doesn’t mean she can just say whatever she wants, like, I bet she wouldn’t like it if I said, “Hey, Jessica, no offense, but your chaetae are looking pretty thin. Maybe it’s because you’re underdeveloped…?” would she?”

“Prudence, will you please tell Jessica that actually I am allowed to be offended by that because I didn’t actually say, “Okay,” to the “No offense,” and– Wait, what do you mean my chaetae are thin? As if they are and at least my bristles aren’t too short like yours are!”

And somehow they manage to ride the ocean currents across extensive distances without pulling each other’s segments apart. I know I’m impressed.

Original Dissertion (open access) // Paper in Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society // Pictures courtesy of Helena Wiklund.

– bec


Filed under New Species!, Science, Sea Creatures

You Guys, You’re Going To Give Hydrolagus melanophasma A Complex!

ghost-shark-new-species Hydrolagus melanophasma

So you’ve probably already heard about it a billion times over, but yes, a team of researchers from the Pacific Shark Research Center and the California Academy of Sciences have identified a new ghost shark, publishing their findings in the September issue of Zootaxa. Named Hydrolagus melanophasma, (Hydrolagus the Latin term for ‘water rabbit’ and melanophasma the Latin term for ‘black ghost’) this Eastern Pacific black ghost shark had actually already been discovered as far back as 1947, as the preserved specimens kept at the Scripps Oceanographic Institute would indicate, but it wasn’t until a live individual was filmed off the coast of Southern California using the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute ROV and compared to the museum specimens that the researchers realised the species had never been formerly identified.

This ghost shark, (which is actually not a shark but a cartilaginous type of fish called a chimaera, that as a group branched off from the shark lineage around 400 million years ago) has been generating a lot of attention because of its unique appearance and curious appendages. As is characteristic to male chimaeras, the large, blackish-purple Hydrolagus melanophasma has what scientists speculate are specific types of sex organs, or ‘tenacula,’ sprouting from its forehead, near its pelvis, and in front of its pelvic fins, which essentially look like little clubs covered with spikes. But while it has been suggested that these organs are used by the chimaera to assist with mating, their function is actually quite different from that of the penis, in that they are probably used by the male to grip on to the female, the pelvic tenacula acting as a funnel for the sperm as it is transferred to the female.

So of course while this whole “sex organ in the face” thing is pretty fascinating, I’m not so sure it’s particularly appropriate or sensitive to the Hydrolagus melanophasma’s feelings to be calling it “freaky” and “bizarre” all the time and making jokes of a sexual nature at his expense, especially since we’ve really only just met. And besides, I’m willing to bet that the Hydrolagus melanophasma has already had his fair share of ridicule, having grown up around a whole lot of sea creatures who don’t have sex organs in their faces, because, you know, kids can be pretty cruel about that kind of stuff.

It probably started with a young Hydrolagus melanophasma having an awesome time playing Brandings or something in front of the spiny dogfish’s cave with a bunch of other primary school sea creatures. Then just when the umbrella crab is about to peg a rather large anemone kinda hard at him, the Hydrolagus melanophasma’s sex organ will accidentally start clasping idly at nothing in particular and the umbrella crab will be all, “Eww! Hydrolagus melanophasma has aliens coming out of his face! RUN!!” And poor Hydrolagus melanophasma will be super-embarrassed and confused, and will try hiding with a couple of wolf eels behind a sunken oil drum before getting squealed at and shoved away, because of his “gross alien germs,” and such.

So the Hydrolagus melanophasma will go home to ask his parents if he really does have aliens coming out of his face, and Mum and Dad Hydrolagus melanophasma will briefly whisper something to each other, coming to the conclusion that he’s probably old enough to have “The Talk.” So they’ll sit him down after dinner, mention something about genitals and love, and then inexplicably start blowing whatever the fish version of a condom is up like a balloon. The young Hydrolagus melanophasma will ask what that was supposed to teach him about responsible reproduction, but his dad will tell him not to be smart and The Talk’s over so go watch some cartoons or something.

But soon enough the kids at school will also work out what his face aliens actually are, and this will unfortunately coincide with the exact moment that they discover the joy of the “comeback phrase.” The Hydrolagus melanophasma would be in the canteen line quietly discussing an upcoming chemistry exam with one of the sleeper sharks in his class, and how that video of atoms making out on the dance floor at a disco probably wasn’t as much help as it should have been because instead of learning anything important he spent the whole time wondering how the cartoon was going to successfully carry the metaphor all the way to covalent bonding if the atoms didn’t actually have any genitals, when a heckler from the hungry throng will be all, “Your FACE is a genital!!” And much to the Hydrolagus melanophasma’s mortification, the rest of the sea creatures in the queue will burst into fits of cruel laughter and somebody else will add, “That’s what she said!!” and “I’ll show YOU my genitals!!”

And the Hydrolagus melanophasma will be all, “Whatever, dickheads,” but this will only make the raucous a billion times worse as everyone struggles for enough breath to be the first to manage a spirited, “I know you are, but what am I?!”

The increasingly upset and frustrated Hydrolagus melanophasma will at this stage probably lose it, and start informing everyone that it’s not even a penis, it’s just a clasper, but he won’t make it much further than that before someone cuts in with another, “That’s what she said!!”

And the first thing we all do when we find him is call him a freak. Nice one, guys. Way to make a positive first impression. Jesus.

Neurotopia // Original paper (by subscription)

– bec

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Filed under Museum Stuff, New Species!, Sea Creatures

A Plague’s A Crowd, Bosavi Woolly Rat.

bosavi woolly rat

A three-week expedition into the heart of an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea has produced some truly remarkable results, with the discovery of a significant number of previously unknown species of frog, insects, fish, birds, and mammals. A team from the BBC Natural History Unit led by climber and naturalist, Steve Backshall, wildlife cameraman, Gordon Buchanan, and head scientist, Dr George McGavin, made the descent into the three-kilometre wide by one kilometre-deep crater of Mount Bosavi to find an estimated forty new species, including sixteen new species of frogs, at least twenty new species of insects, a new cuscus (since named the Bosavi Silky Cuscus), three new species of a fish, and what is thought to be a new species of bat.

“Highlights include a camouflaged gecko, a fanged frog and a fish called the Henamo Grunter, so named because it makes grunting noises from its swim bladder,” said Steve Greenwood, producer of the BBC series, Lost Land of the Volcano, for which the expedition was commissioned. Also of particular interest is the giant cat-sized rat, which was discovered with the help of an infrared camera. Yet to be given its scientific name, the Bosavi Woolly Rat reaches 82 centimetres from nose to tail, and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms, making it one of the largest rat species ever found.

bosavi hairy caterpillar

So you might be feeling a little bit bewildered right now, Bosavi Woolly Rat, having never seen people before and now all of a sudden you meet them and they adore you. But I think you should know that in terms of rats, you’re kind of an anomaly. People generally don’t like your kind, my giant rodent friend. You give them the creeps and they sort of assume you’re out to infect them with diseases, chew through their floorboards, or gnaw their babies’ faces off in their sleep. And I know that all sounds horrible to you and of course you’d never dream of doing anything of the sort because you are very much the gentleman, Bosavi Woolly Rat, but people can be odd sometimes.

All I’m saying is just don’t be surprised when you get the usual dinner party invitations that newly-discovered (or rediscovered) species get these days, and you ask if you can bring your partner and her five or six daughters along, the host will be somewhat reluctant. She’ll “umm and ahh…” a lot before responding delicately that she’d so love to have everyone along, but she only knows how to make enough pie for five guests, and even then she’d be improvising a little and she gets very anxious when she deviates from the recipe, you know? And before you can tell her that you’re sure your rat partner and her girls would be more than happy to bring a couple of extra pies, she’ll say something about call waiting and be like, “So glad you understand. Can’t wait to see you, just you, tonigh-   Oh that must be the caterers. Bye, dear.”

Then pretty soon it’s the weekend and you’ll just want to get your rat rave on with a bunch of your rat friends at some sick club because it’s been a hectic week with the whole ‘being discovered’ and ‘new species’ thing. You’ll invite the guys over to your place for drinks and shit and then you’ll all saunter up to the club a few hours later, the lot of you, but as soon as the door guy sees you he’ll be like, “Oh hell no!” And you’ll politely assure him, “We’re not going to cause any trouble, sir. But it’s Friday night and we just want to unwind.” But he’ll be impervious to your woolly charm and be all, “Well you’re going to need at least two ladies for every one of you before I’ll even consider letting your mangy arses pay a lot of money to come in here.” And being the reasonable rat you are, Bosavi Woolly Rat, you’ll turn to the guys and be like, “Yeah that’s cool, we can find some ladies. We’ll be back soon!”

“HUMAN ladies.”

“Oh.” And knowing full well the task required of you would be near impossible to achieve, you’ll slink back home, defeated and disappointed, having been unable to acquire any kind of rave to call your own.

You’ll try to make reservations at restaurants, Bosavi Woolly Rat, but when you turn up they’ll tell you they made a mistake and already gave your table away. A well-dressed lady in the corner wearing pearls will likely scream and scramble up onto the table. You’ll all go to the beach and everyone else will edge their umbrellas away and then throw your towels into the ocean when you go for a swim. You’ll go to the movies to see a film that’s been out for months already but the ticket girl will tell you it’s all sold out and when you sigh dejectedly as an enormous rat group she’ll tell you it wasn’t any good anyway. And neither are any of the other films they’re currently showing.

Yeah, it’s going to be tough for you and your rodent friends, Bosavi Woolly Rat, out in the real world. But just remember, as unpopular as a bunch of rats might be to most people, a bunch of camouflaged jungle spiders will always be far more unpopular. No one’s going to consider inviting even one of them over for dinner at their house, so that’s something, right?

– bec

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Filed under Animals, Insects, New Species!, Science, Sea Creatures

Chill the Fuck Out, Swima Worms & Spanish Ribbed Newt…

green bomber worms

As early as 1879, biologists have known about the Spanish ribbed newt’s tendency to use its rib bones as weapons, but only recently has x-ray imaging been used to observe how they do it. When the newt is agitated or distressed, it will swing its ribs forward, increasing their angle to the spine by up to 50 degrees so they can pierce the skin and act like defensive barbs against potential predators (yes okay, like Wolverine). So not only is this Spanish newt willing to use its own structural anatomy as a defense mechanism, but it is also quite happy to stab itself right through its own body walls in the process.

Furthermore, the Spanish ribbed newt has the ability to excrete a poisonous milky substance onto the skin when threatened, which effectively turns its exposed rib points into very handy stinging tools, according to zoologist Egon Heiss of the University of Vienna in Austria.

spanish ribbed newt

And in more overly-defensive animal news, a new species of deep sea worm has just been discovered by a team led by Karen Osborn of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, which they’ve rather aptly named Swima bombiviridis. Not only do these four-inch-long eyeless worms have scores of bristles on either side of their body to allow them to paddle forwards or backwards very fast, they also have a renewable supply of eight little sac-like appendages or “bombs” attached to their bodies, just near the head. When agitated or threatened, the Swima will release their bombs, causing a chemical reaction which will instantly produce a bright green bioluminescence designed to distract their predators while the Swima paddle backwards to safety. “There are no other annelids that have structures like this,” Karen Osborn told the press.

green bomber worms

So I’m going to go ahead and shotgun not sharing a house with these two really highly-strung organisms. You’d be like, “Hey after dinner do you guys want to play Risk?” and they’ll both express interest with aplomb because neither of them have played it in ages and they remember it to be all kinds of awesome fun. So you’re all setting up your pieces in their allocated territories and you’re like, “I’m getting a tea, do you guys want one? Yeah? Earl Grey, Earl Grey, peppermint. Got it.” But then you go to get the milk out of the fridge and there’s none there and you’re like, “Fuck. Did either of you two use the last of my milk and not tell me?” and Swima bombiviridis shrugs uselessly as he shifts his artillery around China, while Spanish ribbed newt is looking hell-uncomfortable and just keeps staring at Brazil. So you’re all, “Newt…?” and he’s like, “Nah dude, I don’t even drink milk… Shit,” as his ribs explode violently from inside his torso. So you serve Swima bombiviridis his black Earl Grey tea with a pointed sigh and Spanish ribbed newt sheepishly sucks his ribs back in so the game can get underway.

But less than twenty minutes later it suddenly dawns on you how full the recycling bin in your kitchen is and you’re like, “Oh my god, Swima bombiviridis, did you forget to put the bins out last night…?” and Swima bombiviridis suddenly shoots backwards over the top of the couch while releasing half a dozen fluorescent green bombs which proceed to bounce onto the coffee table and send Spanish ribbed newt’s Greenland infantry flying haphazardly into Alaska. The agitated newt begins to secrete his milky poison all over the couch.

Swima bombiviridis eventually inches his way back towards the couch, muttering something about needing a toilet break, and you’re all, “Whatever man, it’s your turn.” So then you’re like, “Who wants ice-cream?!” and Spanish ribbed newt and Swima bombiviridis look at each other in alarm and start to sink lower into the couch and you’re like, “Uhh kay, I’ll take that as a yes,” because neither of them have never not wanted ice-cream before. But then you open the freezer and, OH MY GOD – it’s empty – and you spin around, arms akimbo, ready to scream profanities at all and sundry, only to see a lone, milky Spanish ribbed newt urgently trying to push all of his ribs back in amid a telling wave of fluorescent green floaty bomb-sacs that have irrevocably scattered your infantry all over the Europe and into the North Atlantic Ocean.

– bec

* Swima pics courtesy of Karen Osborn.


Filed under Animals, New Species!, Science, Sea Creatures

Time To Put That Thumb-Sized Body to Use, Aellen’s Long-Fingered Bats


A team headed by Manuel Ruedi, the curator at the Natural History Museum in Geneva, Switzerland, discovered just two weeks ago a new species of bat (in the throes of clumsy reproduction, no less), in a cave on a volcanic island of Comoros, Africa, north of Madagascar. Weighing in at just five grams (0.2 ounce), the diminutive Aellen’s long-fingered bat is, remarkably, no bigger than a moth or the average human thumb. Ruedi remarked that the discovery of bats mating in the wild was a rare occurrence, “especially when it involves an unknown species!”

Aww. So tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats, this is really awkward. One minute you don’t exist, and the next you’re doing sex to each other while a bunch of scientists watch and marvel and take heaps of photos and maybe even some DNA when you’re not looking. And not only that, now that you’ve been well and truly discovered, there will be no end to to the wisecracks about your weeny rodent stature. Everyone’ll be like, “You look like you could accidentally fall in my soup and I probably wouldn’t even notice before it’s too late. LOL.” And it might never be too late, tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats – that’s how small you are.

Oh but don’t fret too much, little ones, I’m not going to have a go at you for getting caught mating in public like I did the trilobites, because, unlike those giant arthropodal reprobates, you look like you’re doing it the way God intended – with just one male, and one female. Hear that, trilobites? One male. And one female. Take your sordid orgy some place else. See those tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats? They even thought to cover up their genitals while the scientists are visiting, which is far more than I can say for you lot.

Now then, long-fingered bats, here’s the part where I level with you and confess that I’m not just here for a pleasant chat. I’ve got a proposition for you, so listen up. You know how scientists have also recently discovered that the Tadarida brasiliensis and Myotis velifer bats might potentially hold the secret to ultimate longevity? Well just imagine for a moment, if you will, what it would be like to combine your impossibly tiny proportions with their rare and highly sought-after life-prolonging protein-folding techniques. Well yes, tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats, I guess it would kind of make you a bit like Jesus. But I was actually thinking more along the lines of Navi. All you’d need to do is make sex with a few Tadarida brasiliensis and Myotis velifer (yes, yes, I know you’re in love, but whatever, it’s just sex) and then teach your offspring to emit a powerful luminous glow like all the time, and in return we’ll let them follow us around, offering advice and pointing out vital clues and hidden caves and stuff that we would otherwise have missed. Sometimes we’ll have to catch them in a bottle and carry them around in our knapsacks till we need an extra burst of lifesource, but I’m sure they won’t mind too much. You’ve got my email address, tiny Aellen’s long-fingered bats, let me know what you think, okay?

– bec

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