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Nature

A Sea of Ants…

killer ants

Army ants do not have a permanent nest but keep on the move, at best they stay in one place for a two to three weeks. Workers pack themselves around the queen and eggs/larvae making a structure that protects them. The youngest workers are on the inside and the elder ones on the outside.

The ants are on the move according to their breeding cycle – They get moving about 10 days after the queen lays her eggs. This wandering phase lasts about two weeks while the larvae develop. The ants move in the day capturing insects, spiders and even small vertebra’s to feed to the larvae.

ants attacking scorpion
army ants attack scorpion
army ants attack
Credit : National Geographic Video.

At night they remain static until the next morning when the march starts again. Typically a large colony could consume up to five hundred thousand insects a day !

Our larvae spin pupa cases after about two weeks and they no longer need food. The colony is able to remain static for about 20 days during this phase.

Prey is now fed to the queen who lays the next batch of eggs, once the pupae emerge from the cocoons the eggs have hatched and the next batch of larvae need to be fed. The colony moves again.

About every three years virgin queens hatch and the colony splits two queens will survive with each having half the colony. Remaining queens are abandoned to die.

If the queen dies at some other time, the colony cannot create an emergency queen and the colony is likely to die too. It is however possible that the workers will fuse with another colony within a few days of their queen dying.

When army ants forage the trails formed can be 20 meters wide and up to 100 meters long. Ants move out along the outside of the trail and bring food back in the middle of the trail.

A colony of army ants foraging is called a swarm, swarm raid or column raid. This raid could be significant, up to twenty million ants.

The good news is that they don’t typically threaten humans or large animals but could be a problem if your house happens to be on their foraging path !

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Nature

Who am I?

okapi
#okapi

Like the Giraffe I have seven cervical vertebra in my neck and like the giraffe I have two ossicones on my head. My colors are perfectly suited for life in my tropical habitat where I eat fruit, fungi, plants and ferns.

I have rod cells in my eyes that are usually found where the owner has to operate in lower light environments. These are concentrated in the retina and make for improved night vision although I am primarily diurnal which means I am up and about mostly in the day.

The Okapi lives in the rain forests of Congo in Central Africa and looks like a cross between a Zebra and an antelope but has aspects relating to the giraffe which happens to be its closest relative.

The Okapi has a thick oily fur which helps it stay dry in the rain forest environment. Like the giraffe and the cow, the okapi has four stomachs to digest the plant material and like the giraffe, has a tongue that is 14 to 18 inches long.

An okapi calf can walk within 30 minutes of being born but cannot defecate until a month old which helps avoid predators being able to find them. In addition, the mother communicates with the calf making sounds that are out of human hearing range.

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Nature

Cute, but I bite !

emperor penguin
#penguin
penguin

The only penguins in the Northern Hemisphere are on the galapagos islands and in particular on the island of Isabella.

So, with most penguins being ‘Southern folk’ it makes perfect sense that the largest population would be on the Antarctic peninsula with over 1.5 million birds.

Emperor Penguins typically live for between 15 and 20 years old and eat mostly krill but also small fish and squid.

Penguins do have knees, its just they are hidden under all that insulation but its the feet that are interesting. Ever wondered why they don’t freeze?

Well the answer is in the arteries that allow blood flow to be regulated so that the feet stay just above freezing. Further to this is that the arteries run alongside/around the veins so some of the heat from the blood in the arteries is shared with the vein blood, helping warm it before reaching the upper part of the body which is pretty efficient. This setup also helps get the new blood to a closer/cooler temperature to that of the feet.

Penguins have another little trick in that they keep their plumage cooler than the surrounding environment so they actually gain heat from the air around them. A process called thermal convection.

So what about the eggs? The Emperor Penguin female lays the egg, passes it to Dad and she is off for two months!

Dad sits patiently incubating the egg for winter but his reserves aren’t enough to keep warm for so long so they form colonies having turns to be on the cold edge of the group.

The egg typically hatches after about two months and the process of breaking out of the shell can take up to three days. The chick is totally dependent on Dad at this time. Dad also produces a kind of crop milk which is high fat and protein.

Mom then reappears after her two months out with the girls or more accurately, feeding at sea. She starts feeding the chick while Dad feeling a bit famished by now heads to the open ocean to feed, returning in about three to four weeks. When the chicks reach about seven weeks old they form groups for warmth and protection and when Dad returns both parents care for the chick until it is about five months old.

Around this time the parents decide its time for junior to start fending for him/her self and apparently the parents aren’t very good at good byes, so….

Well, they just don’t come back !

The youngster gets hungry and eventually heads out to sea and starts learning life’s lessons

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Nature

Slippery Sam escapes again…

octopus
#octopus
octopus on the move

I once read something to the effect of looking after a two year old is like having an octopus into a string bag constructed in squares, like a fishing net. Then trying to stop all the tentacles from getting out of the holes !

The amazing octopus is remarkably fast underwater,kind of dancing along on the tips of its tentacles without tripping over them or getting into a knot. How all this is coordinated is quite astounding.

Apparently this all takes nine brains to achieve, kind of network computing way before we even found computers! The main brain is in the head with each tentacle having its own ‘lesser’ brain. Added to this tentacle processing requirement are the hundreds of suckers on the tentacles and as if that’s not enough, there is the fast changing skin camouflage also needing to be controlled.

This is necessary when one has a soft body that offers fish a tasty meal and on that score, a pretty neat defense mechanism exists in the form of black ink for last ditch attempts to escape. In the event of losing an arm the octopus simply grows a new one !

The soft flexible body does provide another advantage though in that our octopus is a notorious escape artist capable of fitting into almost any shape or crack in the rocks. They are notorious for squeezing through small apertures limited only by the size of their beak.

Add to this that an octopus has blue blood and three hearts, two of which pump blood to the gills and the third to the rest of the body. It is truly an amazing creature!

Reproduction is a once off occurrence with multiple males trying to pass on their genes by using a specially adapted arm to place a sac of sperm into the females mantle cavity. This sac may stay there for several months before the female lays any eggs. The month before the female is due to lay her eggs she will stop eating. Then, when she does finally lay the eggs they can be in the order of two hundred thousand at once!

She will then protect the eggs and keep them clean by blowing water over them. The males in the meantime have left and die within a few months of mating, that is if they weren’t eaten during the mating process. The eggs take about two months to hatch by which time the female is pretty close to death.

The babies stay close to the surface and feed on plankton. Approximately two thirds of them are eaten during this stage. It will be months before they can return to the ocean floor where they belong. They then grow fairly quickly and the cycle resumes…

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Nature

The little bird that eats Rhinos.

yellow billed ox-pecker
parasite birds
ox peckers

The yellow and the red billed ox-peckers are found south of the Sahara with the red billed mostly in East Africa.

red billed ox pecker
#ox peckers

Feeding habits appear to be similar although breeding clutches differ with the red billed generally laying about five eggs and the yellow billed normally two to three, but could produce three broods in a season.

The nest is typically a tree cavity and often lined with hair from the animals that the bird frequents, along with roots, grass and even dung. The eggs hatch after about two weeks and the young are likely to leave the nest after about thirty days.

Courting and mating usually occurs on the backs of the animals that they spend so much of their time on.

The diet is somewhat interesting in that they are generally regarded as eating bugs and ticks thereby removing parasites from the animals. There is also evidence that the birds prefer certain tick species over others, specifically the large blue adult female variety. Ear wax, skin flakes and mucus add some variety to their diet.

Recent studies have shown that the birds not only remove ticks but peck at the wounds and even open new wounds in order to peck at the flesh and the blood.

This suggests that blood is in fact the favorite food whether taken directly from a wound or from an engorged tick.

Does this make the Ox-pecker a parasite?

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Nature

The owls didnt understand the hooting…

owl
#owl

Most people know that owls are nocturnal but not everyone knows that not all owls hoot, some whistle, others shriek or bark and others even growl or hiss if cornered. Owls look clever but certainly aren’t easy to train.

Owl hearing is outstanding and is probably the more important sense for hunting with some able to detect movement under 12 inches of snow!

The owls ears are set asymmetrically meaning that one is higher than the other which makes it a whole lot easier to pin point where the sound is coming from. Further to this is the owls dish shaped face that guides the sound to the ears. The shape of this dish can be changed at will by using its facial muscles.

An amazing feature is that the owl can detect the direction of the sound due to it reaching one ear before the other. The timing difference that it can detect is in the region of thirty millionths of a second !

The owl turns its head towards the sound until the sound is arriving at the same time to both ears and then it knows its facing the potential prey.

At this point it will fly towards it’s prey or the last sound it heard and if more sound it detected it will make in flight adjustments. About 20 inches from the prey it brings its feet forward and just prior to impact moves its talons in front of its face and closes its eyes for the impact.

Owls eyes are another fascinating aspect as they don’t have eye balls, their eyes are in the form of tubes that provide a greater sense of depth. The cost of not being able to move its eyes is made up for by being able to turn its head 270 degrees. This also ensures silence when hunting.

…and a conservative tip – the next time you have an owl mesmerized in your car headlights. Switch the lights off and immediately back on – it will be ample time for the owl to react and fly from the imminent destruction is was facing.

Thanks for your time

Categories
Nature

Clowning in the Danger Zone

clown fish
anemone
Photo by Julio Camelo on Pixabay

Clown fish can be found in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Red Sea and on the Great barrier Reef of Australia.

The amazing fact is that anemones eat small fish ! But why don’t they eat the clown fish?

The clown fish has a mucus layer that is about four times as thick as that found on other fish. However, the anemone doesn’t appear to try to sting the clown fish and this may be due to the fact that unlike other fish that fall prey to the anemone, the clown fish does not try to eat the tentacles.

The clown fish has a symbiosis relationship with the anemone, meaning they both benefit from the relationship. The clown fish attracts other fish with its bright colors (which provide food for the anemone) and helps to keep the anemone free of parasites. In return the anemone provides protection from clown fish predators.

Another interesting fact is that all clown fish are born males and the dominant fish in a group is a female. When something happens to the female another male changes to a female, but cannot ever change back to a male.

Clown fish live up to about 10 years and lays between 100 and 1000 eggs and can spawn every 14 days ! The eggs hatch in about 8 to 10 days and like most fish species, the young are likely to be eaten by their parents if they aren’t careful !

Categories
Nature

Slowly, slowly, fascinating snail…

snail
#snail
garden snail

Hermaphrodite with multiple noses…

The slimy garden snail that seems to appear from nowhere after it rains is actually a fascinating creature with a single lung and some able to live underwater as they have gills.

So what about eating? Snails have a rough tongue called a radula, has your cat ever licked tour hand? well its a pretty rough tongue and a snail tongue is made of tiny microscopic teeth-like structures. They are generally herbivores, eating vegetation but some sea species are omnivores, eating both meat and plants.

Reproduction is an interesting one as snails and slugs are hermaphrodites and are able to reproduce on their own although it is more common to find a mate. They then lay eggs in the dirt and it takes between 2 to 4 weeks before the babies hatch. They then stay in the parents vicinity for up to 3 months, after which they head out into the big wide world.

How long can our newborn snail expect to live? Well, that all depends on the species but anything from 5 to 20 odd years ! given that they can lay eggs multiple times a month with the common garden snail laying about 80 at a time and other species between 5 and 200 makes for a lot of snails.

Gardeners, fear not ! Help is close by as the natural predators come in the form of hedgehogs, newts, toads and some birds. A good idea to attract them is to have a pond which can double up as a garden feature.

Snails have a single foot and move about on a trail of slime which enables them to be able to ‘walk’ or should we say ‘slide’ upside down.

What about eyes? they are found on the ends of the two top stalks and like the lower stalks can be retracted for protection. They kind of fold inwards as they shrink. The lower stalks are used for touch and feeling their way around.

If any of these stalks are damaged, the snail simply grows a new one. These stalks also have sensory cells which help the snail to find food which is why people say that snails have four noses.

A fascinating survival trick of the snail is to seal its shell and hibernate or more accurately to estivate when conditions are not favorable. They can do this for up to three years!

What a fascinating world we live in !