Strange Creatures of Planet Earth
  Interesting Animals on our Planet



 

an·i·mal/ˈanəməl/

Noun: A living organism that feeds on organic matter, typically having specialized sense organs and nervous system and able to respond rapidly to stimuli.

Adjective:
Of, relating to, or characteristic of animals: "animal life".


The word "animal" comes from the Latin word animal (meaning with soul, from anima, soul).
In everyday colloquial usage, the word usually refers to non-human animals.

Frequently only closer relatives of humans such as mammals and other vertebrates are meant in colloquial use. The biological definition of the word refers to all members of the Kingdom Animalia, encompassing creatures ranging from insects to humans.



The Mystery of the Deep

Life on Earth does not just consist of what we see on land. There is also a rich undersea life far from our sight.

Each with its own unique design, the oceans are home to very different kinds of sea creatures.

To such an extent, in fact, that the millions of species in the seas are little by little increasing with every new dive.


The term 'Deep Sea refers to organisms that live below the photic zone of the ocean.

These creatures must survive in extremely harsh conditions; such as hundreds of atmospheres of pressure, small amounts of oxygen, very little food, no sunlight, and constant, extreme cold.


Most creatures have to depend on food floating down from above. These creatures live in very harsh environments such as the abyssal or hadal zones, which, being thousands of meters below the surface, are almost completely devoid of light. The water is very cold (between 3 and 10 degrees Celsius, or 37 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit), and has low oxygen levels.

Due to the depth, the pressure is between 20 and 1,000 atmospheres. Creatures that live thousands of feet deep in the ocean have adapted to the high pressure, lack of light, and other factors.


Humans have explored less than 2% of the ocean floor, and dozens of new species of deep sea creatures are discovered with every dive.

The submarine DSV Alvin—owned by the US Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts—exemplifies the type of craft used to explore deep water.

This 16 ton submarine can withstand extreme pressure and is easily maneuverable despite its weight and size.

However, studying deep sea creatures is problematic, since with the extreme change in pressure, and environment in general, these creatures can't survive for very long, if at all, on the surface. This makes in depth research difficult because so much of what we want to know about only occurs while the creature is alive.

Recent developments have allowed scientists to look at these creatures more closely, and for a longer time.

A marine biologist, Jeffery Drazen, has explored a solution, a pressurized fish trap. This captures a deep-water creature, and adjusts its internal pressure slowly to surface level as the creature is brought to the surface, in hopes that the creature can adjust.



Fish With Transparent Head

For the first time, a large Pacific barreleye fish - complete with transparent head - has been caught on film by scientists using remotely operated vehicles at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. The deep-sea fish's tubular eyes pivot under a clear dome.

Barreleyes, also known as spook fish (a name also applied to several species of chimaera), are small, unusual-looking deep-sea osmeriform fish comprising the family Opisthoproctidae.

Found in tropical-to-temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, the family contains thirteen species in six genera (four of which are monotypic).

These fish are named for their barrel-shaped, tubular eyes which are generally directed upwards to detect the silhouettes of available prey; however, according to Robison and Reisenbichler these fish are capable of directing their eyes forward as well. The family name Opisthoproctidae is derived from the Greek words opisthe ("behind") and proktos ("anus").

All species have large, telescoping eyes which dominate and protrude from the skull, but are enclosed within a large transparent dome of soft tissue. These eyes generally gaze upwards, but can also be directed forwards.

The opisthoproctid eye has a large lens and a retina with an exceptionally high complement of rod cells and a high density of rhodopsin (the "visual purple" pigment); there are no cone cells.

To better serve their vision, barreleyes have large, dome-shaped transparent heads; this presumably allows the eyes to collect even more incident light and likely protects the sensitive eyes from the nematocysts (stinging cells) of the siphonophores from which it is believed the Barreleye steals food.

It may also serve as an accessory lens (modulated by intrinsic or peripheral muscles), or refracts light with an index very close to seawater. A recent study disclosed that Dolichopteryx longipes is the only vertebrate known to use a mirror (as well as a lens) in its eyes.


The Proboscis Monkey of Borneo

The Proboscis monkey's search for tender new leaves must take it across the rivers of Borneo. But beneath the murky waters lie one of earth's most fearsome predators, the crocodile.

The Proboscis Monkey (Nasalis larvatus) is also known as the Monyet Belanda in Malay, the Bekantan in Indonesian or simply the Long-nosed Monkey.

It is a reddish-brown arboreal Old World monkey that is endemic to the south-east Asian island of Borneo.

It belongs in the monotypic genus Nasalis, although the Pig-tailed Langur has traditionally also been included in this genus - a treatment still preferred by some.

While the official Indonesian name for this monkey is Bekantan, an Indonesian nickname is 'monyet belanda', meaning 'Dutch monkey' or 'Orang Belanda', the Indonesian word for 'Dutchman', as Indonesians noticed the Dutch colonisers often also had a large belly and nose.


A distinctive trait of this monkey is the male's large protruding nose, from which it takes its name. The big nose is thought to be used to attract females and is a characteristic of the males, reaching up to 7 inches in length. The females also have big noses compared to other monkey species, but not as big as the males.

Besides attracting mates, the nose serves as a resonating chamber, amplifying their warning calls. When the animal becomes agitated its nose swells with blood, making warning calls louder and more intense.

Proboscis Monkey belong to the order of Primates, from the family Cercopithecidae and subfamily Colobinae.

According to Bennett & Gomber (1993), in the Old World, these monkeys are divided into two groups known as cercopithecines and colobines.

Proboscis Monkey are colobines. Males are much larger than females, weighing up to 24 kg (53 pounds) and reaching 72 cm (28 inches) in length, with a tail of up to 75 cm in length.

Females are up to 60 cm long, weighing up to 12 kg (26 lb). This large sexual dimorphic difference is greater than in any other primate. The nose is a noticeable feature even on infants.

The adult Proboscis Monkey is mainly reddish-brown, with grayish limbs. According to Burnie (2001), young Proboscis Monkeys have a blue face, blackish fur and a relatively normal sized nose at birth.

As they grow older, fur coloration changes and the nose grows. Adult males have a large and fleshy nose which overhangs its mouth, but the female Proboscis Monkey does not have a large nose in comparison to the male.



Tarsier

Tarsiers are the only extant entirely carnivorous primate on Earth: they are primarily insectivorous, and catch insects by jumping at them.

They are also known to prey on small vertebrates, such as birds, snakes, lizards, and bats.

As they jump from tree to tree, tarsiers can catch even birds in motion. Although the group was once more widespread, all the species living today are found in the islands of Southeast Asia.


Tarsiers are small animals with enormous eyes; each eyeball is approximately 16 mm in diameter and is as large as their entire brain. Tarsiers also have very long hind limbs.

In fact, their feet have extremely elongated tarsus bones, from which the animals get their name. The head and body range from 10 to 15 cm in length, but the hind limbs are about twice this long (including the feet), and they also have a slender tail from 20 to 25 cm long.

Their fingers are also elongated, with the third finger being about the same length as the upper arm. Most of the digits have nails, but the second and third toes of the hind feet bear claws instead, which are used for grooming. Tarsiers have very soft, velvety fur, which is generally buff, beige, or ochre in color.

Tarsiers have never formed successful breeding colonies in captivity, and when caged, tarsiers have been known to injure and even kill themselves because of the stress. One site in the Philipine Island of Bohol is having some success restoring tarsier populations. The Philippine Tarsier Foundation has developed a large semi-wild enclosure that uses lights to attract the nocturnal insects that make up the tarsier's diet.

The 2008 described Siau Island Tarsier is regarded as critically endangered and was listed among the 25 most threatened primates by Conservation International and the IUCN/SCC Primate Specialist Group in 2008. Malaysian government protects tarsiers by listing them in the Totally Protected Animals of Sarawak, the Malaysian state in Borneo where they are commonly found.


Pygmy Marmoset

The Pygmy Marmoset or Dwarf Monkey (Cebuella pygmaea) is a New World monkey native to the rainforest canopies of western Brazil, southeastern Colombia, eastern Ecuador, eastern Peru, and northern Bolivia.

It is one of the smallest primates, and the smallest true monkey, with its body length ranging from 14 to 16 centimetres (5.5 to 6.3 in) (excluding the 15-to-20-centimetre (5.9 to 7.9 in) tail).

Males weigh around 140 grams (4.9 oz), and females only 120 grams (4.2 oz).

The Pygmy Marmoset uses special types of communication to give alerts and warning to its family members. These include chemical, vocal, and physical types of communication.

A trill is used to communicate over long distance. A sharp warning whistle and a clicking sound signal danger to their family members. A J-call is a series of fast notes repeated by the caller and is used at medium distances.

Pygmy marmosets live 11-12 years in the wild, but in zoos, they live into their early twenties. Marmosets often live in groups made up of an adult pair and its offspring; ranging from 2-6 members. Young marmosets typically remain in the group until after 2 consecutive birth cycles.



Weedy Sea Dragons

These two could teach Strictly Come Dancing a thing or two. Named for their uncanny resemblance to the plant life around them, a male weedy seadragon seduces a female with some very fancy fin work.

Two months later, however, its the male who's left carrying the eggs.

Living off the coast of south Australia, weedy seadragons (Phyllopteryx taeniolatus) are the only known species along with sea horses and pipefish - where the male carries the eggs.

Although the eggs start out in the female, she lays about 120 of them onto the tail of the male where they are then fertilized and develop until they hatch.


Phyllopteryx taeniolatus, the Weedy Seadragon or Common Seadragon, is a marine fish related to the seahorse. It is the only member of the genus Phyllopteryx.

It is found in water 3 to 50 m deep around the southern coastline of Australia, approximately between Port Stephens, New South Wales and Geraldton, Western Australia, as well as around Tasmania.

Weedy Seadragons are named for the weed-like projections on their bodies that camouflage them as they move among the seaweed beds where they are usually found.


Weedy Seadragons can reach 45 cm in length. They feed on tiny crustaceans and other zooplankton, from places such as crevices in reef, which are sucked into the end of their long tube-like snout.

They lack a prehensile tail that enables similar species to clasp and anchor themselves. Phyllopteryx taeniolatus swim in shallow reefs and weed beds, and resemble drifting weed when moving over bare sand.

Seadragons, seahorses and pipefish are the only known species where the male carries the eggs.


The male of the species carries the fertilized eggs, attached under his tail, where they are incubated for about eight weeks. The young are independent at birth, beginning to eat shortly after.

Mating in captivity is rare since researchers have yet to understand what biological or environmental factors trigger them to reproduce.

In captivity the survival rate for Weedy Seadragons is about 60%. A more cryptic relative of the Weedy Seadragon is the Leafy Seadragon, Phycodurus eques. In the November 2006 issue of National Geographic magazine, marine biologist Greg Rouse is reported as investigating the DNA variation of the two seadragon species across their ranges.

The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California, in the USA; the Melbourne Aquarium in Melbourne, Victoria, in Australia; and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the USA, are the only facilities in the world to have successfully bred Weedy Seadragons in captivity, though others occasionally report egg laying.

As of June 2008, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, USA had a pregnant seadragon, which was expected to give birth in early-mid July. The Weedy Seadragon is the marine emblem of the Australian State of Victoria.



Vampire Bats

These vampire bats have heat sensors in their noses-all the better for finding the sweet spot on a sleeping victim - and sipping half their weight in blood.

Vampire bats are bats whose food source is blood, a dietary trait called hematophagy. There are three bat species that feed solely on blood: the Common Vampire Bat (Desmodus rotundus), the Hairy-legged Vampire Bat (Diphylla ecaudata), and the White-winged Vampire Bat (Diaemus youngi).

All three species are native to the Americas, ranging from Mexico to Brazil, Chile, and Argentina.


Because of differences between the three species, they have each been placed within a different genus, each consisting of one species.

In the older literature, these three genera were placed within a family of their own, Desmodontidae, but taxonomists have now grouped them as a subfamily, the Desmodontinae, in the American leaf-nosed bat family, Phyllostomidae.

The fact that the three known species of vampire bat all seem more similar to one another than to any other species suggests that sanguivorous habits (feeding on blood) evolved only once, and that the three species may share a common ancestor.

Unlike fruit-eating bats, the vampire bat has a short, conical muzzle. It also lacks a nose leaf, instead having naked pads with U-shaped grooves at the tip. The common vampire bat also has specialized thermoreceptors on its nose, which aids the animal in locating areas where the blood flows close to the skin of its prey.

A nucleus has been found in the brain of vampire bats that has a similar position and similar histology to the infrared receptor of infrared-sensing snakes. Vampire bats generally have small ears and a short tail membrane. Their front teeth are specialized for cutting and their back teeth are much smaller than in other bats.

Their digestive system is adapted to their liquid diet, and their saliva contains a substance, draculin, which prevents the prey's blood from clotting. The vampire bats do not suck blood, but rather lap the blood at the site of the haemorrhage (where the prey is bleeding).

The inferior colliculus, part of the bat's brain that processes sound, is well adapted to detecting the regular breathing sounds of sleeping animals that serve as their main food source.

Vampire bats are believed to be the only species of bats in the world to "adopt" another young bat if something happens to the bat's mother. Vampire bats also share a strong family bond with members of the colony, which is believed to be why they are the only bats to take up this adoption characteristic.

Another unique adaptation of vampire bats is the sharing of food. A vampire bat can only survive about two days without a meal of blood, yet they cannot be guaranteed of finding food every night. This poses a problem, so when a bat fails to find food it will often "beg" to another bat for food.

The "host" bat may regurgitate a small amount of blood to sustain the other member of the colony. This has been noted by many naturalists as an example of reciprocal altruism in nature.

Vampire bats hunt only when it is fully dark. Like fruit-eating bats, and unlike insectivorous and fish-eating bats, they emit only low-energy sound pulses.

The common vampire bat feeds mostly on the blood of mammals (including humans), whereas both the hairy-legged vampire bat and white-winged vampire bat feed on the blood of birds.


Once the common vampire bat locates a host, such as a sleeping mammal, it lands and approaches it on the ground.

Vampire bats are very agile and a recent study found that common vampire bats can, in addition to walk, run at speeds of up to 7.9 km per hour (4.9 miles per hour). They locate a suitable place to bite using their infrared sensors. They then create a small incision with their teeth and lap up blood from the wound.

"The most common species, the South American vampire (Desmodus) is not fastidious and will attack any warm-blooded animal. The white-winged vampire (Diaemus) appears to have a special preference for birds and goats. In the laboratory it has been impossible to feed Diaemus on cattle blood."

If there is fur on the skin of the host, the common vampire bat uses its canine and cheek teeth like a barber's blades to shave away the hairs. The bat's razor-sharp upper incisor teeth then make a 7mm long and 8mm deep cut.

The upper incisors lack enamel, which keeps them permanently razor sharp.The bat’s saliva, which is injected into the victim, has a key function in feeding from the wound. The saliva contains several compounds that prolong bleeding, such as anticoagulants that inhibit blood clotting, and compounds that prevent the constriction of blood vessels near the wound.

A typical female vampire bat weighs 40 grams and can consume over 20 grams (1 fluid ounce) of blood in a 20-minute feed. This feeding behaviour is facilitated by its anatomy and physiology for rapid processing and digestion of the blood to enable the animal to take flight soon after the feeding.

The stomach lining rapidly absorbs the blood plasma, which is quickly transported to the kidneys from where it passes to the bladder for excretion. A common vampire bat begins to expel urine within two minutes of feeding.

While shedding much of the blood's liquid makes taking off from the ground easier, the bat still has added almost 20-30% of its body weight in blood.

To take off from the ground, the bat generates extra lift by crouching and flinging itself into the air. Typically within two hours of setting out, the common vampire bat returns to its roost and settles down to spend the rest of the night digesting its meal.

Excess urea from protein is thereby excreted via the urinary system of the vampire bat aided by hormones to make concentrated urine that consists of concentrated urea in small amounts of water.

Vampire bats tend to live in colonies in almost completely dark places, such as caves, old wells, hollow trees, and buildings. They range in Central to South America and live in arid to humid, tropical and sub tropical areas. Colonies can range from a single individual to thousands, often roosting with other species of bat. They will almost always have only one offspring per breeding season.

Each colony will typically have only one reproducing male, with around twenty females and their offspring. Each individual needs a blood meal at least once every few days. If a bat fails to get adequate food during its foraging, it may contact another vampire bat in its colony to induce a food donation. The food exchange occurs mouth-to-mouth in an activity similar to kissing. Vampire bats can live up to nine years in the wild and up to 19 in captivity.
 




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