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· Here’s a good question for ichthyologists: why do most cave-dwelling species lack eyes (or have reduced or covered organs), while most deep-sea fish that live in an equally black environment , have big eyes and their own lights?
· Chameleons are famous for being able to rotate each eye independently of the other. However, many other lizards can also do this, as well as many fish.
· Most species of lizards that are active in daylight have a third eye in the center of their skull. It cannot “see”, but it is sensitive to ultraviolet light and is used by lizards to let them know when it is time to come out of the sun. Pet lizards given a heat rock instead of a heat lamp can seriously burn themselves – or even die – because they don’t react to the heat coming from the abdomen. Geckos, burrowing lizards and other nocturnal species do not have a third eye.
· Bats have extremely sensitive sonar and can fly safely through a dark room in which wire has been strung between the floor and ceiling. However, that sonar isn’t very good at detecting a moving ceiling fan blade, and bats have been known to get spooked by the equipment.
· Octopus ink contains a variety of chemicals, including metal ions. Not only is the ink poisonous, it also “shorts out” the electrical detection organs possessed by sharks and other predators.
· Peter Benchley and Steven Spielberg did a great job making us afraid to get in the water, but Americans are 400,000 times more likely to be killed (accidentally, of course) by their doctor than by a shark.
· The origin of the word “torpedo” goes back to ancient Greece. The local electric ray, a flat relative of sharks and stingrays, was called a Torpedo and could deliver an electric shock strong enough to a person who stepped on one to force it off its feet. The word later became associated with any object in water that had a similar effect.
· Bees do not sting and you will never be stung if you are a male bee. The bee’s stinger is a modified version of the ovipositor tube, which males lack. Incidentally, while it’s true that a bee can only sting once—and then die—bees and other wasps are capable of stinging repeatedly.
· Some tapeworms grow longer than a blue whale, but if you twisted the tape tightly, it would only take up as much space as the whale’s eye.
· The blood of some Antarctic ice fish contains a natural antifreeze that keeps the blood super cold. However, if the fish comes into contact with the ice (which is warmer than water), its blood begins to crystallize, killing the fish.
· Those really tall termite nests found in Africa and Australia are masterpieces of energy efficiency, maintaining an almost perfectly constant temperature that doesn’t change more than a tenth of a degree all day, every day. Solar power, anyone?
· When learning about sex, forget the birds and the bees. Avian sex is usually based on the female having two different types of sex chromosomes (called Z and W), while in mammals it’s the male with the odd pair (called X and Y). As for bees… technically they have three sexes: drones (males), workers (sterile females), and queens (fertile females). You don’t want your children to think that if a bee stings them they will get pregnant.
· Hey, speaking of sex, be happy – happy – you’re not a squid. Large species of squid, including giant squid, don’t “do” as you might think (if you’ve ever thought about squid sex…). Males latch on to females, then tear holes in their skin. The male then takes a packet of sperm and pushes it into the female’s cut. When the female is ready to ovulate, perhaps several months later, the sperm move through her body and fertilize the eggs. I don’t even want to think what Dr. Ruth!
· The “Black Death” that killed an estimated 33 percent of Europe’s population might not have been so severe if humans hadn’t killed so many cats. At the time, cats (who killed the rats that carried the fleas that brought the plague to the house that Jack built…) were believed to be associated with witches and were destroyed in truly CATAClysmic numbers.
· Star Trek’s Captain Spock has green blood, but he’s, you know, fictional. On this planet, all but two types of creatures with a backbone have red blood. Arctic and Antarctic ice fish live in sub-freezing waters. They keep the blood liquid by adding a glycerin-based antifreeze, and the blood is as pure as water. The only land vertebrates without red blood are some lizards. Green-blooded skinks of New Guinea have blood associated with large amounts of bile pigments. This dose in almost any other creature would be extremely lethal, but some zoologists think that bile protects lizards from malaria.
· The world’s smallest sharks — there are two species tying for the title — are the size of a full-grown human’s index finger. They are black on top, have bioluminescent green bellies and tiny jaws that couldn’t even bite a finger.
· An extraterrestrial alien doing a biological study of Earth would report that this planet is inhabited mostly by beetles. Not only are there more species of beetles than all vertebrates combined, but they make up nearly half of all animal species—including the rest of the insects.
· Vampire bats are real and feed on blood. However, they live only in the tropics of South and Central America and prefer to bite ankles rather than necks. Oh, and they don’t suck blood; they lick it.
· Dogs have a much better sense of smell than humans, and it ranges from about ten times better in some breeds to nearly 10,000 times better in hunters. To put this in perspective: compared to us, it would be as if a bloodsucker could see the period at the end of this sentence if it appeared over 18,000 miles away. No wonder Ol’ Sparky knows you’ve got a cookie in your pocket!
· Meanwhile, back to the tapeworm: while some may grow longer than a blue whale, there are three known dinosaurs that also grew longer than cetaceans. Seismosaurus, Ultrasaurus, and Supersaurus all grew to over 100 feet, with seismosaurus estimated at 120-140 feet! However, the heavy blue whale almost certainly still holds the title of the heaviest animal that ever lived. But you can see how difficult it is to answer the question of which animal is the largest. It all depends on your definition of big…
· In one of the first gene transplant experiments, scientists took the genes that allowed fireflies to glow and inserted them into tobacco plants. The result was tobacco that glowed (green) in the dark without lighting up. You can now buy zebrafish that have been given genes from bioluminescent algae. These creatures that glow in the dark are called GloFish.
· Not all female praying mantises are predatory mantises. Some eat their mates, but strangely, the first observations that led to this knowledge were wrong. The researchers had failed to feed the insects for days, so when the male came to mate, the female had him for dinner. Sadly, this particular species rarely eats its mate! The study also showed that a) men are more interested in sex than in food, and b) women are more interested in food than in dumb men.
· Cute, cuddly and stoned – this is a short description of your typical koala. Chemicals in the eucalyptus leaves they eat calm the koalas and make them high. It also makes them smell like menthol. Although it doesn’t clear their heads, it will clear yours, even at a distance. By the way, “koala” is an Aboriginal word meaning “doesn’t drink”, making them unpopular in pubs.
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