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Humans Aren’t The Only Ones To Use A Midwife During Birth, Other Animals Do Too

Midwives have been a part of every culture for centuries. Many places of religious worship celebrate midwifery through paintings, sculptures and Bas reliefs.

Apart from easing the actual birthing process, midwives helped ensure the newborn was healthy, had no trouble breathing and was able to suckle well. In short, midwives ensured both the mother and baby survived. While midwives were the only option for women of yore, today they are one of the most preferred methods of birthing assistance and reproductive care.

When we talk of midwives, we envision a staid, calm person, urging the mother to push, encouraging her with kind words and helping her cope with her pain. When we think about the midwife, we envision a woman and sometimes, a man. Essentially, we envision a human being. 

Till as late as the late 1990s, it was believed that the practice of midwifery was developed by people. Surely animals did not, could not, possess a mind so sophisticated, that they could come up with a practice like midwifery. How would they know that another animal needed assistance during birth?

After all, wasn’t the one, defining difference between man and beast, the ability to empathize and help? 

 

Djungarian hamster
A Djungarian hamster (Source)

 

Animal midwifery: Where animals help other animals give birth

Nature is magnificent and one of the miracles of nature is an animal that acts as a midwife. 

Researchers were stunned to see when male Djungarian hamsters chipped-in to help their mates give birth. Provided they didn’t turn their offspring into a meal first, male Djungarian hamsters consciously pulled the pups out from the females’ birth canals. They proceeded to lick the pups clean and then shared the afterbirth with their mates. If their pups looked asphyxiated, the fathers would lick the amniotic fluid off their nose, clear their airways and help them breathe.  

Scientists believe that Djungarian hamster males experience a severe fluctuation in hormones just prior to birth and this results in an increase in cortisol and oestrogen in their bodies. This, they believe, could be one of the reasons for this unusual behaviour. The other theory has to do with the hamsters’ living conditions. Unlike other wild hamster species, Djungarian hamsters live in dry, desert environments and they spend a lot of time in their burrows with their mate, to escape from the harsh climate. This could make them more willing to help their mates during birth (compared to other hamster species where the males are nowhere near the birthing area). 

 

black Snub nosed monkey
A Black snub-nosed monkey (Source)

 

But it isn’t just Djungarian hamsters who make excellent midwives. Researchers have observed female black snub-nosed monkeys in South China also playing midwives to their bandmates during delivery. 

When a female black snub-nosed monkey is about to give birth and contractions start, she cries out using a very distinct sound. Upon hearing this sound, another female joins her and waits for the infant to crown. When he does, the midwife gently eases the baby out of the mother’s birth canal, tears open the amniotic sac and hands the infant back to the mother. Once she’s done, the midwife heads back to forage for food or take care of her own infant. The same behaviour was noticed in golden snub-nosed monkeys. 

Female bonobos too practice midwifery. This behaviour has been seen often in captivity and once in the wild. Just like the black snub-nosed monkey, the bonobo mother makes a soft, high-pitched squeal.

When she hears this, another female bonobo accompanies the pregnant mother and helps her give birth. Here too, the afterbirth was shared between the mother and the midwife.

 

Bonobo
A Bonobo (Source)

 

A primate speciality?

Djungarian hamsters aside, both the snub-nosed monkey and bonobo are primates. This makes us wonder whether their primate brains – significantly more developed than other animals’ – could be the reason for midwifery behaviour. 

But this may not be the case.

Chimpanzees, who are the closest to humans (and who possess far superior brains compared to bonobos and snub-nosed monkeys), prefer to give birth in isolation. So too other primates like gorillas and orangutans. 

But if you consider the research by primatologist Pamela Heidi Douglas, only 5 out of the 39 live births (across 31 primate species) she recorded, were done in isolation. The rest were in the company of band/troopmates. 

What makes this behaviour particularly difficult to observe, is how these animals typically give birth at night. Additionally, with these animals so adept at hiding from predators (including humans), it becomes even harder to track birthing animals. 

Empathy, intelligence or instinct?

The practice of midwifery developed in humans as we became more aware of the birthing process. Our highly-evolved brains, capable of high empathy, added to this progress. 

What we don’t know today, is if animal midwifery stems from the same reason. It could also be the desire to partake of another female’s placenta (after all, it is rich in life-saving nutrients). Or, it could just be pure instinct. 

No matter how we reason it, the concept of animals playing midwives will throw up more questions, than they answer. Only time and extensive research will reveal the truth. 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Featured Image: Golden snub-nosed monkey 

 

 

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What’s In A Name: The Colourful (& Sometimes Hurtful) Profession of Naming New Species

Elephas maximus borneensis, Funambulus palmarum, Ajaja ajaja, Oryza rufipogon…you may have come across these or something similar in your biology textbook or an article about wildlife. They are scientific names of animals & plants – Borneo elephant, Indian palm squirrel, Spoonbills and Wild rice, in that order.

At first read, we may not really decipher which species the name refers to. But when we do, we are pleasantly surprised.

One of the most exciting activities in the scientific community, is taxonomy – the science of grouping a newly discovered species. A part of this job involves naming the species.

While enjoyable, the process of naming a new species is also a very complicated task; which involves a lot of research, word play and sarcasm. If you’ve ever wanted to know how plants & animals get their scientific names, you’re at the right place.

 

Rules 2
Source: Pixabay

 

The rules of naming

The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature is the governing body which has complete control over all things taxonomy. It is the Code which spells out how an animal can be named and what rules must be followed while naming.

According to the Code, there are 3 cardinal rules that all taxonomists need to follow when naming an animal:

  • Don’t use a used name – The name must be completely unique.
  • Don’t be insulting – The name must not be rude to anyone.
  • Don’t name the species after yourself – The final name cannot include the name of the taxonomist.

Sounds simple enough? Unfortunately it isn’t.

There are many cases in the past when scientists named an animal to either gain recognition or to take a dig at a competitor.

There was Dr. May Berenbaum, the VP of Entomological Society of America, who named a species of urea-eating cockroach after herself – Xestoblatta berenbaumae. Of course, she did say that fame wasn’t her focus when she did this. Dr. Berenbaum was already a highly-reputed scientist in the community and she only wanted to showcase her passion for creepy crawlies by naming one after herself.

 

Cockroach xestoblatta-berenbaumae-male-female
Xestoblatta berenbaumae (Source)

 

Then there was famed 1700s botanist, the Father of Taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus. He is renowned today, not just for his contribution to taxonomy, but also for being unbelievably petty and mean towards people he didn’t like. At the height of his career, he used fellow botanist and friend Johann Georg Siegesbeck’s name as inspiration to name a foul-smelling genus of weed – Sigesbeckia orientalis – after Siegesbeck publicly criticised Linnaeus’ method of species classification. This, many believe, was meant to be a dig at Siegesbeck’s  jealousy at Linnaeus’ success.  

 

Anderson (Mrs), active 1858; Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Later Carl von Linne
Carl Linnaeus, the Father of Taxonomy (Source)

 

St Paul Wort
Sigesbeckia orientalis aka St. Paul’s Wort (Source)

 

And who can forget Daniel Rolander, Linnaeus’ most-hated protégé?  After Rolander refused to share his field study results and samples from his trip to Suriname with Linnaeus, the latter promptly went ahead and got him banned from leading scientific and academic institutions of the time. To add salt to injury, Linnaeus also named a type of dung beetle – Aphanus rolandri – after Rolander. Ouch. 

Loosely translated to English, Aphanus rolandri means “inconspicuous Rolander”. Now that’s what I call a double whammy.

 

Beetle aphanus_rolandri
Aphanus rolandri (Source)

 

Here’s one more – Famed palaeontologist O.A. Peterson named a species of prehistoric pig as Dinohyus hollandi, after Director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History W.J. Holland, for the latter’s annoying habit of hogging the limelight. Holland was known in scientific circles for taking credit for every research paper published by his students, irrespective of whether he contributed to it or not.

 

 

Okay back to the rules of taxonomy

Barring these and a few other instances of inspired, but hurtful name-calling, taxonomy has for the most period, been a civilised affair.

When naming an animal or a plant, taxonomists are told to consider the specialty of the species as inspiration. So, when scientists found a new genus of tiny sea snails, they named them Ittibittium; given how they were much smaller in size compared to another genus of sea snails – Bittium.

 

Snails Ittibitum
Genus Ittibittium (Source)

 

The second way to name a new species – find another creature that looks exactly like it and name the new species after that. Enter Scaptia beyonceae, a species of horse fly which is renowned for possessing a giant, golden bottom. Who else in the animal kingdom had such a big, tanned, booty? Why, Beyoncé of course.

 

Fly Scaptia-beyonceae
Scaptia beyonceae & Beyoncé (Source)

 

TV shows and story book characters have inspired species names too. A newly discovered species of jellyfish was named Bazinga reiki after The Big Bang Theory’s protagonist Sheldon Cooper’s famous catchphrase “Bazinga”. The bacteria genus Midichloria was named after a fictional alien species called “midichlorians” described in the cult classic Star Wars.  Then there’s the fossil of a large turtle, discovered in 1992 – Ninjemys oweni, named after the hit show Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

 

 

So, to encapsulate

Scientific names must be unique, kind, not self-glorifying and clever. They must take inspiration from the species itself or another, just like it.

Can only scientists name a new species?

Although scientists who discover the species usually get the honour of naming them, some scientists allow members of the public to send their suggestions.

In 2000, Dr Nerida Wilson discovered a species of nudibranch in the Indian ocean. She didn’t have a name for the animal. So, she decided to let the people decide. She invited names from the public and the submissions were reviewed by a panel of expert taxonomists. Finally, the entry by Patrick from New South Wales was chosen and the nudibranch was named – Moridilla fifo.

 

Nudibranch fifo
Moridilla fifo (Source)

 

Oh yes, here’s something else…

The names don’t need to be in Latin.

Although Latin was the language of taxonomy in the 1700s, today, there’s no strict rule requiring taxonomists to name species in Latin or Greek. You can provide a name in any language of your choice and taxonomists will tweak the spelling to resemble Latin or Greek, without actually changing or translating the name itself.

Want to name a species yourself?

Go on and keep your eyes peeled for opportunities. Who knows, the next big discovery could be named by you.

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

PS: Featured image: Hierarchy in taxonomy Dinohyus hollandi – Fossil; Representative imageBazinga reikiMidichloriaNinjemys oweni 
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5 Fun Facts About Africa’s Great Migration

You may have seen it on television – it’s an event that National Geographic has always loved to film. A grand spectacle and a treat for the senses, the Great Migration in Africa is the annual movement of the world’s largest (non-human) land animal group from one part of Africa to the other, in search of food and safer breeding grounds*.

Wildebeests, antelope, zebra and big cats congregate for five months of rigorous walking, eating, birthing and killing. Here are 5 amazing facts about it:

  1. The Great Migration starts in Tanzania at the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation areas and ends at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The migration starts in the month of November and the animals reach their destination in March.
  2. A recorded 1.5 million wildebeest, 200,000 zebra and thousands of antelope make the migration each year. The animals travel a staggering 2900 kilometres (1800 miles) in total, from Tanzania to Kenya and back during this journey.
  3. The Great Migration follows one of the most dangerous routes in Africa. Animals making the journey have to deal with hungry predators (lions, cheetahs & crocodiles), treacherous floods, the uncaring African sun, mean-spirited tsetse flies and physical tiredness. More than 250,000 wildebeests and thousands of zebras and antelopes die each year on the journey. This is excluding the thousands of calves who are left orphaned and vulnerable to predators after their mothers die. A recorded 3000 lions follow the herds on their journey, picking off the weak and the injured.
  4. More than a foraging mission, the Great Migration is a breeding expedition. Pregnant wildebeests move from Tanzania to Kenya for better environmental conditions for calving. An estimated half a million baby wildebeests are born annually during the migration. In the peak of the calving season (February), more than 8000 wildebeest calves are born in a single day!
  5. Although they look like they’re confused and panicked all the time, the massive herds of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes actually function together as one cohesive unit. They display a tactic researchers call “swarm intelligence”, where they carefully analyse, strategise and implement a  plan of action to get safely past any threat together. There’s no “I” in this family.

 

Bonus

There is still no established and accepted explanation for the occurrence of the Great Migration.

Some scientists believe the changing chemistry of the grass could be the reason for the movement. When levels of phosphorous and nitrogen in the Serengeti grassland reduces, the wildebeests may be encouraged to move elsewhere for more nutritious meals, acting as the catalyst for the Great Migration. Others believe that the migration may be the result of a co-ordinated effort helmed by a leader. But so far there has been no evidence of there ever being an alpha-wildebeest in any herd. Then there are those scientists who believe that the Great Migration is the consequence of instinct and DNA – a purely biological process that has no other reason.

Well, whatever the rationale, fossil records show that the Great Migration has been in occurrence in East Africa for over one million years.

 

Migratie-Serengeti-map
The Great Migration – Route Map (image source)

 

serengeti-migration
A sea of wildebeests, zebras and antelopes greet the eyes during the Great Migration. Often, these herds extend all the way to the horizon; but they don’t stop there. They go on & on. (image source)

 

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Wildebeests crossing the Mara river – this is where they are most vulnerable to attack from crocodiles. (image source)

 

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A wildebeest mother with her newborn calf. (image source)

 

Video: Watch the culmination of the Great Migration – wildebeest giving birth & a newborn’s first, wobbly steps. 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

P.S: Featured image
*Humans take the crown for the farthest migrations in search of food and shelter. 
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5 Fun Facts About Crabs

Crabs are crustaceans, marine animals which have a thick exoskeleton made of a chemical called chitin (which is chemically derived from glucose). Crabs belong to the class Malacostraca, which means “soft shelled animal” and to the order Decapoda, which mostly includes marine crustaceans (like lobster, shrimp and prawn) that scavenge for food, as opposed to hunting them. This makes crabs soft-shelled scavengers.

Here are five fun facts about them: 

  1. There are two types of crabs in the world – true crabs and false crabs – classified so because of their differing physiology. True crabs have the traditional body structure of a crab – a short and shallow abdomen curled underneath the shell and 4 pairs of legs excluding the pincers. False crabs on the other hand, look a little like crabs, but not completely. They have longer abdomens and less than 4 pairs of legs. True crabs include spider crab, blue crab and ghost crab. False crabs include king crab, hermit crab and porcelain crab. There are a total of 5000 crabs in the world – 4500 true crabs and 500 false crabs. 
  2. The largest crab in the world is the Japanese Spider Crab, which measures 13 feet or almost 4 meters from one end of the body to another. In comparison are the Coral Gall crab, Pea crab, Marsh Fiddler crab and Flattop crab – all of which measure in at a teeny-tiny half an inch at adulthood. If you kept 4.5 standard sized mail boxes one-on-top-of-the-other on one side and a small pea on the other side…well, that’s how the size difference would look between these crabs.  
  3. A small species of crab called Lybia or boxer crab, carry stinging anemones in their pincers anywhere they go. Why?  Lybia are very small in size and they don’t have venom to protect themselves from predators. They use the anemones in a mutually-beneficial partnership where the anemone acts as their defensive, venom-filled gloves. If an animal were to attack the Lybia, the anemone would sting the predator, protecting the crab. In return, the crab takes the anemone to different water bodies, allowing it to feed-off various sources and gaining valuable nutrients not found in its native environment. 
  4. If a crab loses its limbs in a fight, it can grow them back in a matter of months. This is a feature that is also found in starfish and lizards. 
  5. Crabs walk sideways because their legs are positioned to the sides of their body and their joints bend outwards and sideways. The reason for this type of evolution traces back to the crabs’ feeding behaviour. As sand-digging scavengers, crabs never needed to move forwards or move fast. This meant they didn’t need forward bending legs (which are one of the reasons animals can walk or run fast) and could make-do with sideways legs and sideways walking. However, not all crabs walk sideways. Frog crabs and spider crabs belong to the handful of crab species that walk forwards. 

 

 

Bonus

There is a type of parasitic barnacle called the Sacculina, which injects itself into the crab’s body, takes control of the crab’s will and makes it do its bidding. Crabs infected by Sacculina can’t control their own body mechanisms and are forced to become walking, breathing incubators of Sacculina eggs. Read this highly-informative article to learn all about the relationship between the Sacculina and its crab host. 

Here’s what a crab infected by Sacculina look like: 

 

 

Video: Coconut tree crabs are the only type of crabs that can climb trees. Watch this monster of a crab climb a tree, bend coke bottle caps and more. 

 

 

Crab 1
A Lybia with anemone in its pincers (image source)

 

 

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Featured image – The Sally Lightfoot crab from the Galapagos Islands. Sacculina – Mental Floss & Wikipedia.

 

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5 Fun Facts About Hibiscus

Hibiscus, also called Rose Mallow, are flowering plants that belong to the order of Malvaceae – which are plants that grow in warm, temperate, tropical and sub-tropical regions. There are 679 species of hibiscus in the world. 

Here are 5 more facts about them:

  1. Hibiscus are edible and have a citrusy taste. Roselle, a type of red-coloured hibiscus found in West Africa is used to make a special type of prawn soup that locals eat as a delicacy during festive times. The Paites tribe in Manipur, India also uses hibiscus leaves in their cooking, for its uplifting flavour. 
  2. One of the primary reasons why people started brewing hibiscus tea was because of the hibiscus flower’s unique diuretic properties – it has the ability to stimulate urine production in the body, thereby helping the body throw out harmful toxins. 
  3. Hibiscus is the National Flower of 3 countries – Republic of Haiti, Malaysia and South Korea.
  4. Hibiscus flowers and leaves should never be consumed by pregnant women. Why? Hibiscus is an emmenagogue food – in addition to stimulating urine production, hibiscus flowers stimulate blood flow in the pelvic region. A pregnant woman regularly consuming hibiscus flowers, leaves or hibiscus-infused foods and beverages will confuse her body into setting the menstrual process in motion. This can lead to early labour or miscarriage! Even lactating mothers would be better off staying far away from hibiscus as consumption could lead to a stop in milk production. 
  5. Want to shine your dirty shoes before a big meeting? Go right into your garden and get a hibiscus. Hibiscus oil is a natural shoe-shiner and is used as a shoe polish liquid across Asia. 

 

Bonus

Women in Hawaii and Tahiti have an interesting custom. Single women who come of age, who are ready for marriage and who wish to be courted wear a hibiscus flower behind their right ear; while married women and betrothed girls wear the flower behind their left ear. 

 

Hib 4

 

Hib 1

 

Hib 2

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

 

P.S: Images – Pixabay
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5 Differences Between Turtles & Tortoises

Turtles & Tortoises must have been the source of the “Find the difference” game, because they are two animals that most people can’t distinguish between. 

Turtles & tortoises are both reptiles which belong to the Testudines family of animals – animals which developed a bony/cartilaginous layer on their backs, which cover their bodies as a shield. They belong to the same group as crocodiles and snakes. 

A lot of times, many aspiring pet owners don’t know how to differentiate between a turtle and a tortoise and end up caring for them the wrong way. They give them the wrong food and expose them to the wrong living conditions. This results in many animal deaths. Those owners who try to do right by their pets by releasing them back into the wild, release turtles & tortoises in environments they actually aren’t supposed to, leading to more deaths. 

So, how can we stop this vicious cycle? By learning more about them of course. Here are the top 5 differences between turtles & tortoises

  1. Turtles can swim, tortoises can’t. That’s why turtles have webbed feet (sea turtles have full-fledged flippers) and tortoises have feet that have toes (like that of an elephant) which they use to walk & climb. 
  2. With the exception of the Sonoran mud turtles and Box turtles, all other turtle species have a streamlined and flat shell. All tortoises have deep, domed shells. The streamlined shells of turtles are highly-aerodynamic and reduce drag in the water. Tortoises never needed to evolve a flat shell because they never needed to swim. 
  3. Turtles live on an average for 80 years. Tortoises for 150 years. There have been instances where turtles and tortoises in healthy captive conditions lived well beyond their natural lifespans, some reaching an estimated 250 years of age. 
  4. Turtles are omnivores and like to eat a mix of plants and meat like larvae, insects, small fish and jellyfish. Tortoises are mostly herbivores and love their green leaves, with only a handful of species choosing to eat meat. 
  5. Female turtles come on shore only to lay eggs and will return to the water immediately after. Female tortoises on the other hand, often stay a few days protecting the nest and will return to their territories much later. If you’ve seen a turtle/tortoise lay her eggs near your property and you want to do your bit to give these eggs a chance to hatch (and not get eaten by predators), read this really-informative article by the Tortoise Protection Group here

Bonus

Okay, here’s a fun fact that can turn everything you’ve just learnt on its head. 

Scientifically speaking, there’s no distinct species called “tortoise”!

Okay, before you drop your device in shock, let me just clarify that there’s more to it.

So, according to taxonomy (the science of classification), all animals that have shells which cover their body completely are called “turtles”. What this means is that all tortoises are in reality a type of turtle

Let’s break it down further. The species called “turtles” includes – tortoises, terrapins (yep, that’s a new one) and turtles.

  • Tortoises are turtles which live exclusively on land.
  • Terrapins are turtles whose shells resemble those of sea turtles (only smaller), but whose legs look like those on tortoises and they swim in freshwater.
  • Turtles are actually sea-turtles which live in the ocean and do not remain long on land. 

Basically, all tortoises and terrapins are turtles, but all turtles are not tortoises and terrapins. 

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An Australian sea turtle (image source)
TT4
A Galapagos giant tortoise (image source)
TT 5
A Terrapin – see how they look like a cross between a turtle and a tortoise. Their shells are flat and streamlined, but their feet are only slightly-webbed with long claws attached, making them perfect for both land and water-based living.  (image source)
TT 1
Turtles & tortoises have different types of feet. (image source)

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Featured Image
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I’m Celebrating My First Anniversary At WordPress & Stories So Wild!

Hey everyone! It gives me great pleasure to announce that today – October 9th 2018 – is My 1 Year Anniversary at WordPress.

It was a year ago that I decided to pick up my laptop and start blogging about a topic that I was most passionate about – wildlife. I thought I’d take this time (and use this post) to talk about my experience so far and the amazing journey I’ve been on during this eventful year. 

I have always loved wildlife. As long as I can remember, I’ve picked up books that dealt with animals, plants, rocks, water bodies…the list is endless. Be it stories by Enid Blyton or memoirs by Jane Goodall, each book held my fascination and still do so today. Although I don’t have an academic background in wildlife and I don’t have much field experience, apart from the ocassional safaris and treks through protected parks, I have always felt the only prerequisite needed to write about wildlife is – passion. And that’s something I have in excess of. 

My journey this year has been amazing and I’ve gone through such a growth curve. I’ve learnt what kind of material ticks in the blogging world, what type of writing format I’m good at, what type of work my readers love to read and most importantly, what type of content gets the word out about the wonderful plants, animals & arthropods that occupy our world. I hope I’ve been able to (and hope to continue to) do my bit to help reduce ignorance and increase empathy towards the wild. 

I have been inspired by so many writers, painters, bloggers, photographers – both on WordPress and those outside it – the list of people whose creative work has inspired my creative juices to flow, is endless. I have gained immense knowledge about the different kinds of science writing in the literary world and I’m now more aware about my responsibilities as a science writer. I am discovering new ways to discharge these responsibilities with care and finesse. 

I have experimented with multiple blog formats over the course of this year and I am now beginning to understand where my future lies in the world of wildlife blogging. For this, I have my readers to thank. Your feedback has helped me find my voice – a voice that works for both you and me – a voice that hopefully works in favour of the wild we are working together to protect, preserve and promote. 

I’d also like to thank my family – my parents & sister – for their constant encouragement, without which I would never have had the courage to channel my passion into words. This blog is a source of comfort and joy to me today. Your critique and directions have helped me hone my writing and they challenge me to take on more challenging topics of discussion each day. 

Finally, I’d like to end by thanking everyone of my readers & followers for being with me on this exciting journey. I hope we can walk arm-in-arm for years to come, learning about the wild we all love so much. 

Have a great evening!

Lots of love, 

Nisha Prakash 

 

 

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5 Fun Facts About Sea Sponge

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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. 
  5. 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.

 

Bonus

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 the Top 5 most preferred sea sponge tampons

Would you use them?

 

Tidal zones
Various tidal zones in the ocean – sea sponges are found at each level, right from the seabed to the Abyssal zone.

 

Sea Sponge 2
Sponges grow in large clusters across the ocean bed. (image source)

 

Sea Sponge 3
A female sea sponge that’s spawning .i.e. releasing fertilised eggs into the ocean. Most sponges are hermaphrodites – both male and female – and can produce sperm and eggs simultaneously.  (image source)

 

Sea Sponge 4
Different types of sea sponges in the world. (image source)

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

P.S: Featured image source
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5 Beautiful Fungi From Around The World

Fungi are a group of organisms in the plant kingdom that include mushrooms, moulds and yeast. While some are plain-Jane in appearance, others look too beautiful to be real. But the fact is, they are real, they are beautiful and some are deadly. 

Here’s our list of 5 beautiful fungi from around the world:

Pixie’s Parasol Fungus

Found in Australia, New Zealand, Chile and New Celadonia, Mycena interrupa, aka, the Pixie’s Parasol grows on moist beech and eucalyptus trees. 

 

Fungi 1
Pixie’s Parasol Fungus

 

Red Coral Fungus

Found under hemlocks, conifers and other deciduous trees in North America and the Himalayan Mountain Range, Red Coral Fungus is one of the few edible fungus in the world. 

 

Fungi red coral
Red Coral Fungus

 

Orange Peel Fungus

Growing in North America, the Orange Peel Fungus gets its name from the cup-like, orange-coloured body it has. Although it is harmless to humans and can be eaten, it is usually avoided since it very closely resembles its highly-toxic cousin, the Otidea onotica.

 

 

Fungi orange peel
Orange Peel Fungus

 

Fungi Otidea onotica
Otidea onotica – poisonous to humans

 

Porcelain Fungus

A common sight in Europe, the Porcelain Fungus grows on rotting tree barks. It releases a very strong and foul smelling fungicide that prevents animals from eating it and that destroys other plants or fungi that grow near it. 

 

Fungi Porcelain fungus
Porcelain Fungus

 

Mycena Chlorophos Fungus 

One of the handful of bio-luminescent fungus in the world, the Mycena chlorophos is found in subtropical Asia, Brazil and Australia. It glows the brightest when it is a day old and starts losing its bio-luminescence as it ages, until its glow becomes absolutely undetectable to the naked eye. 

 

Fungi Mycena Chlorophos
Mycena Chlorophos Fungus

 

 

Although these are amazing, they aren’t the only beautiful and brilliant fungi around the world. Stay tuned to Stories So Wild for more fungi-related posts!

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

 

P.S: Featured Image: Golden Spindle Fungus 

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5 Fun Facts About Rats

  1. April 4th is celebrated as World Rat Day. This day was chosen in honour of the date of incorporation of the Ratlist, a mailing list that’s dedicated to the care and upkeep of pet rats. 
  2. A rat’s whiskers are its “hearing” devices. The whiskers pick up vibrations from the ground and inform the rat the size of the object/creature coming towards it and the direction it is coming from.
  3. Rats have been observed making a high-pitched laughing noise when they play. 
  4. A rat’s teeth never stop growing. They can grow up to 5 inches per year. These teeth are so strong, they can gnaw through lead and aluminum sheeting!
  5. Rats have really good memories and can recognize faces & places. Their superb memory is one of the reasons why they don’t get lost in mazes and drain pipes. 

 

Bonus

In countries like Cambodia, Angola and Zimbabwe, Giant African rats are trained to detect landmines. In fact, these rats have saved countless lives through their super-rat landmine-detecting abilities. 

To qualify as a landmine-detector, the rats have to undergo a gruelling 6-9 months training and must pass an accreditation test. Read all about this interesting process here. You can also meet some of these heroes at Apopo

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A rat training to detect landmines

 

Rat 2
Rats make great house pets as they are very easy to maintain.

 

Rat 3
Wild rats carry over 35 different diseases that are really dangerous to humans.

 

-NISHA PRAKASH 

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5 Fun Facts About Orchids

  1. There are more than 25,000 documented species of orchids in the world and they’ve been around since before the continental drift 200 million years ago.
  2. The smallest orchid in the world is in Ecuador. It is only 2.1mm long and it requires a microscope to examine. It’s petals are so thin and transparent, scientists believe they resemble the size and texture of human cells.
  3. There is an orchid called the Bee Orchid, whose petals and fragrance resemble a bee. The orchid uses its unique appearance and fragrance to attract male bees, to stimulate pollination.
  4. Orchid seeds are really tiny – smaller than a dust particle. That’s why some orchids take up to 15 years just to germinate. Many of the full-grown potted orchids found in stores are often decades old!
  5. Rare orchids can get really expensive. Some of the most expensive orchid plants are – Rotchschild’s orchid ($5,000 per plant), Fire lilies ($10-$20 per stem), Yellow And Purple Lady Slipper (Critically endangered – Priceless) and Ghost Orchid (Critically endangered – Priceless).

Bonus

That vanilla-flavoured ice cream you love so much? It’s derived from an orchid. The Vanilla planifolia is a type of orchid, whose leaves are used to derive the vanilla flavouring used in food and beverages. Additionally, when someone talks about “vanilla beans”, they’re actually referring to orchid seeds.

Orchid 15
Rothshild’s slipper orchid
Orchid 16
Ghost orchid
orchid 17
Purple lady slipper orchid 
Orchid 1
Rare blue orchids
Orchid 2
Praying Angel orchid
Orchid 5
Bee orchid
Orchid 8
Platystele Jungermannioides – the smallest orchid in the world
Orchid 9
Moth orchid 
Orchid 10
Monkey orchid
Orchid 13
Swaddled baby orchid
Orchid 14
Flying duck orchid

-NISHA PRAKASH

P.S: Featured image: Dendrobium orchid 

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5 Fun Facts About African Wild Dogs

  1. Each African wild dog has a unique spotting/marking on its fur. These markings serve the same purpose as human fingerprints and help researchers and gamekeepers keep track of individual pack members.
  2. Unlike in other animal groups where males leave and females stay behind; male wild dogs stay in their birth pack for life, while females leave and join other packs after reaching sexual maturity. This ensures there is no inbreeding.
  3. African wild dogs follow a community-based rearing of their young. Every adult member of the pack is responsible for the safety & upbringing of the pups and both males and females share babysitting duties.
  4. Wild dogs packs are extremely loving and caring, often taking care of the injured members of their packs for years. Healthy, adult dogs give feeding priority to pups and injured pack members, even before feeding themselves.
  5. Wild dogs are extremely intelligent and plan hunts well in advance. In fact, it’s this intelligence, coupled with team work and endurance that makes them successful in 80% of all attempted hunts. In comparison, lions are successful only 17%-19% of the time.

 

Bonus

Humans have tried to domesticate wild dogs like they did other canids, but have remained unsuccessful. Why? Wild dogs have an inherent suspicion towards any animal apart from their own pack-members and they have an intense dislike towards being touched. All domesticated dog species on the other hand, were very friendly and liked being petted, even when wild. 

 

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Wild dog pups, just weeks old

 

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Wild dog pack in the midst of a hunt 

 

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Every adult wild dog in the pack is responsible to teach pups the ways of the wild

 

Wild dog 2
Wild dogs are very curious about their environment

 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Indri

  1. Indris are a type of lemur found in Madagascar. They are very rare and an estimated 10,000 are left in the wild, making them critically endangered species.
  2. Indris produce songs to communicate with each other, which comprise of a series of roars and grunts. These songs are so hauntingly beautiful, they’re thought to be as good as the vocalizations humpback whales make as part of their mating ritual.
  3. Indris are a matriarchal society. A female leads the troop for foraging and determines the troop hierarchy.
  4. Indris mate for life and only seek out a new partner when their mates die.
  5. Female indris are fertile only for a single day in the year and they must mate then to ensure pregnancy.

Bonus

Unlike in other lemurs, the indris’ small tail doesn’t serve any purpose and doesn’t help them walk or jump. Instead, indris depend on their muscular legs to jump from tree branch to tree branch. They can jump 10 feet across in a single leap.

Video:

Sir David Attenborough meets an Indri

Indri
An indri 
Indri 4
A baby indri
Indri 3
A mother-baby pair

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Chevrotain aka Mouse Deer

  1. Chevrotain are found only in Asia and Africa.
  2. Chevrotain are super small in size. The various sub-species of the mouse deer range in size between that of a Chihuahua and a Jack Russell Terrier.
  3. Although they resemble deer and have mousey faces, the chevrotain are not related to either of the animals. In fact, they belong to a separate, mostly-extinct species called Tragulidae, of which they are the only surviving members.
  4. They have very long and sharp fangs which they use during battle for territory and mates. Their bites can put even Dracula to shame.
  5. Female chevrotain are pregnant for most of their adult lives. They mate and get pregnant within a few hours of giving birth.

 

Bonus

Chevrotains walk down into the river bottom and remain submerged for up to 4 minutes at a time when they sense the presence of predators.  They may also create secondary burrows for themselves underwater where they stay until the danger passes. To see what this is like, watch the video below.

 

Mouse deer 1
A chevrotain’s fangs are very sharp and long. Males have longer and sharper fangs than females.
Mouse deer 4
Chevrotain mating
Mouse Deer 5
A mother chevrotain feeding a fawn. Mothers stand on three legs, lift a leg in the air and feed their fawns. 
Mouse Deer 6
Fawns are one of the smallest creatures in the wild
male Lesser Mouse-deer
A mouse deer in the Thai forest

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

 

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5 Fun Facts About Okapi

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Mother okapi speak to their babies in infrasound, sounds that are too low for humans to hear.
  5. Okapi release a black tar-like substance from their feet, which leaves marks when they walk. This could be a way of marking territory.

 

Bonus

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.

 

Video: An okapi in the wild

 

Okapi 1
An okapi 

 

Okapi 4
The Okapi Wildlife Reserve established in Congo helps safeguard this Rare & Endangered species. There are currently only 25,000 documented okapi in the wild. 
Okapi 5
The Congolese franc uses okapi as the image for their 50 franc notes.
Okapi 2
A mother-calf pair feeding

 

-NISHA PRAKASH

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5 Fun Facts About Bearded Dragons

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3.  Baby bearded dragons weigh only 2 grams at birth. That’s the same weight as 5 paperclips!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.   

 

Bonus

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)

 

BD 3
Bearded dragon with its flared beard
BD 2
Different morphs of the bearded dragon family, created through selective breeding

 

-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.

Fairy Penguin 2
A newly-hatched fairy penguin chick and an unhatched egg
Fairy Penguin 1
Fairy penguins in the wild

Video:

Newly hatched fairy penguin chick at Cincinnati Zoo

-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!

 

 

Hippo 2
Hippo mother and calf pairs stay together for 8 years, until the baby enters adulthood.

 

Hippo 3
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 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 

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5 Fun Facts About Gorillas

  1. They are 98% human! 98% of the Gorilla’s genes are the same as the genes found in humans.
  2. They live only in Africa and no where else in the world.
  3. They make up to 25 different sounds, which is the highest level of vocalization by any great ape after humans. One gorilla named Koko even knew sign language and could make 1000 different signs!
  4. Want to identify a gorilla? Take its nose print. They’re unique (just like human fingerprints).
  5. Homosexuality exists in gorilla families and often females pair together and engage in sexual activity.

Bonus:

When we refer to  “Silverbacks”, we mean “male gorillas who’s over the age of 12” and who are often troop leaders. “Blackbacks” are “males under the age of 11”.

Gorilla 3

 

 

Gorilla 2

 

Video: 

 

-NISHA PRAKASH