Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Tarsier – Gollum Monkey?

April 10, 2009

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My precioussssss.

Well, Tarsier isn’t really a species, it’s more like a group (family, if you want to get taxonomic) of furry, fluffy little primates with two fun distinctions that make them, among other things,  an interesting bunch.

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Monday Organism – Axolotl/Ambystoma mexicanum

March 16, 2009

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Ambystoma mexicanum is binomial for Axolotl, or “tiger salamander”. This amiable amphibian is typically found in Mexico (what is it with me and Mexican organisms?), and is widely used in scientific research since its embryos are rather transparent, making it ideal for researchers in developmental biology.

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Monday (paleo)Organism – Indohyus

February 16, 2009

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Due to the current fossil whale craze, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s Monday Organism to another famous fossil related to whales. Well, I say “related to whales”, and this much is true for any ancient organism, but the truth is, Indohyus is really, if anything, only a sister taxon to ancient cetaceans – it’s unlikely that whales descended from Indohyus directly.

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Monday (Paleo)Organism – Ambulocetus natans : The Walking Whale That Swims

January 12, 2009

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Ambulocetus natans, a long-extinct species of cetacean from the Eocene (about 59-60 mya) and creationist nightmare extraordinaire, is one of the most fascinating fossil species known. Ambulocetus natans literally means “The walking whale that swims”, so as to provide an uppercut reply to any creationist who ignorantly inquires: “What I don’t see in the fossil record is walking whales that swim!”.

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Monday Organism – Amphioxus, Representative of Our Ancient Past

December 22, 2008

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Amphioxus/Branchiostoma is a primitive chordate that would probably look to most non-biologists like a tiny fish or even a tadpole. Thing is, amphioxuses aren’t fish, they’re not even vertebrates!

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Monday Organism: Strange Mammals!

December 15, 2008

This week’s Monday Organism is not going to be about evolution, and also, not going to be about one organism. Since I rather keep these posts non-technical (not an easy thing to do), I’m going to write a little exposee on two truly amazing mammals:  the Aye-Aye and the Flying Squirrel.

A.The Aye-Aye – Daubentonia madagascariensis

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The Aye-Aye is one of those rare occurences that can only happen in a place like Madagascar. That might not be 100% accurate, but the fact Madagascar is ecologically detached (for land animals, anyway) from mainland Africa has probably done some evolutionary magic to create the wondrous biota living there.

The Aye-Aye has a somewhat (for Primatology laymen anyway) esoteric taxonomy, it is a Strepsirrhine. Strepsirrhines are what can only be reasonably called “wet-nosed monkeys”, although the Aye-Aye, at least, has some attributes that make it quite unlike the normal “monkey image” in our head.

The Aye-Aye looks like a mix of a rodent, a squirrel, a monkey, and a demon. I say “demon” because the Aye-Aye is a nocturnal primate (and the largest known, at that) – which means he has quite large eyes that glow ominously at night (the presence of the Aye-Aye is considered ominous in Malagasy villages).

The most distinguishing feature in the Aye-Aye, however, is in fact his middle finger. The Aye-Aye’s have an elongated middle finger with an alarmingly developed “fingernail”, although this finger is distinct mainly due to its unusual, “evil-witch” bone-structure. This finger is used to forage food by probing tree-holes for grubs, seeds, etc. This is basically the same thing a woodpecker does, only with fingers!

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B. The Flying Squirrel – Pteromyini

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The Flying Squirrel is a not just an amazing animal, it’s also a visual (and intellectually painful) reply to the notorious creationist question: “what good is half a wing?”. Well, apparently, it’s a world of goodness, at least for the flying squirrel. The Flying Squirrel is a moniker for a family of species who all have the same distinct “gliding organ”: the Patagium: Flying Squirrels have an extension of skin on their back not unlike that of bats, which can be steered to control their gliding in the air (making them actually “gliders” and not really “flyers”, hence “half a wing”).  They also use their tales as stabilizing and to monitor their speed (it can be used for “braking” when the squirrel needs to “land”).