Monday, October 28, 2013

Marni's Ark Animal 2: the Pygmy Seahorse

Thanks for all of your messages about my last post, on the narwhal. And for the well wishes. I am barely dragging my sorry behind around, but glad to be thinking about something more exciting. Like...

Marni's Ark Animal 2: the Pygmy Seahorse
Potbelly seahorse at the
Monterey Bay Aquarium, 2009.

I must first tell you about seahorses generally, because they are so crazy amazing. They're cramazing.

All seahorses are a type of fish which are said to have the

1. head of a horse (hence the name)
2. eyes of a chameleon (they move independently)
3. tail of a monkey (meaning the prehensile tail of a New World monkey)
4. the pouch of a kangaroo

Now that is a weird little fish.

Seahorses and closely related pipefish (Syngnathid family) have a tube-like mouth and no teeth, so their prey must be small enough to be sucked up and swallowed whole.

Full credit for these great snout shots goes to Dr. Heleen Leyson

Due to their odd shape and small fins, seahorses are pretty bad swimmers (some can only manage about 5 m/hour). However, they are excellent at the art of camouflage and spend most of their time clinging to look-alike habitat. See?

Another cramazing seahorse fact, is that MALES give birth to live young. What?! Its true. Males have a special brooding chamber, and following an often elaborate courtship ritual, females deposit their eggs into the male pouch. He then self-fertilizes the ova (between 5 and 2500 per pop) and carries their wee babies until they hatch. That's my kind of dude. Here are some other excellent animal dads. The following video shows a captive seahorse dad "Andy" giving birth, and then the development of the young.

Alright, on to the pygmy seahorse. There are actually a number of species of pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus) found throughout the warm tropical waters of Asia and Australia. The obvious novelty of the pygmy seahorses is that they are small. Adult length ranges between 13-25 millimeters, making the pygmy seahorse one of the smallest vertebrates. Here are some other remarkably small critters, which I find so unbelievably charming. This video features Hippocampus denise and is totally worth watching:

Before signing off on the wonderful pygmy seahorse, I must give a shout out to the leafy (or weedy) sea dragon (Phycodurus eques). In fact, I'll let Sir Attenborough tell you about them, as he does them justice. Watch for the somewhat creepy, externally brooding, roaming baby eyeballs.

Pure awesome. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

I'm boring, but critters aren't.

I'm totally over me. Plus, I've been functioning at like 20% (mystery illness 2.0), so I've gone from being regular bored of myself to pulling-out-my-own-fingernails bored of myself, which does not make for inspiring blog posts.

However, in my sloth-like state, I have taken to watching nature videos on youtube, and Attenborough's Ark got me all jacked up on weirdo animals. So I am going to create my own 'ark' of 10 critters that top my super-awesome list, and over the next few weeks, will tell you about them. Here goes...

Marni's Ark Animal 1: the Narwhal

Super awesome feature of the narwhal: males have 1.5-3 m (that's 5-10 ft, for my Yank friends) canine tooth that grows straight through their upper left lip. They are basically a mammalian-fish-unicorn. For real.

Narwhal male, showing the glorious tooth-o-horn.

Narwhal distribution (in blue).
The narwhal (Monodon monoceros) is one of the toothed whales, is most closely related to beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas), and is found in areas of the Canadian arctic (represent!) and waters off Greenland.

Narwhal are social animals and travel in groups ranging from small pods (5-10 individuals) to large aggregations (of a few hundred), depending on the seasonal food supply. They are fairly deep divers (up to 1500 m) and feed on benthic prey such as flat fish, squid, and cuttlefish.

Here is a clip narrated by Sir Attenborough himself, showing a group of narwhal cruising along.

Nobody really knows why male narwhals grow the immense tooth. About 1 in 500 males has two of the elongate canines, and a few females also have the tooth. The tooth is packed full of sensitive nerve endings, which suggests that it plays a sensory role. But, the males also engage in "tusking" behavior, where they joust with their tooth. This implies that the tooth is a secondary sexual characteristic, i.e. it serves to impress the ladies, but needs to be investigated further. I know I'm impressed.

Here is clip from National Geographic, with some great tusk footage.

Cool, huh?