Welcome to a blog now shared by one, two, um... four people. Wipe your shoes off on the mat and delve into the posts featuring rants, museum pictures, and some cool facts. Nerds of all kinds welcome.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Luck of the Raptor Foot

Ever felt that luck seems to be few and far between for you? Do you have a fancy for dinosaurs, particular those of the Dromaeosauridae family? If you answered yes to either of those questions, then do I have something for you. If you answered no to those questions, well, sit there and act like you're paying attention. Recently I had a great conversation with Stacy Trenary at The Dinosaur Store in Cocoa Beach Florida, and he showed me a wacky little contraption he's got going on Kickstarter. It's called the "Lucky Raptor Foot" (alluding to the Lucky Rabbit Foot of course) - a quirky little keychain with a hopefully-luck-bringing raptor foot on the end.

    As Stacy says on his page on Kickstarter, the idea is to better inform the public about how these raptors actually looked and behaved. Depending on how much you decide to donate, you can get not only one of these awesome raptor feet to call your own, but various authentic fossils (some that Stacy has actually found himself right here in Florida). There's only 14 days left before the Lucky Raptor Foot has to reach its goal, so lets make it happen. For the good of the general public, all of you dromaeosaur enthusiasts out there, and all that is lucky feet.

Of course I can only say so much, so here's the link to his page. Be sure to read the information and see what's in store for this unique and awesome little doo-dad:

And if you happen to be in the Cocoa Beach area, definitely swing by The Dinosaur Store if you get the chance. You can't miss it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Toadhead Agamas; The Boundary of Bizarre


The family of reptiles creates a balance of colour, diversity, and oddity with every species. For many of them, beauty and weirdness go hand and hand, and you get animals like the Panther Chameleon- with their vibrant neon colours and bizarre bodily adaptations. But for a few reptiles, nature ran clean out of ideas and resorted to scrapping up some old ideas for a Sci-Fy story that were abandoned because they were far too absurd. Thus, the Toadhead Agamas were brought out into existence.

They got the "Try to make yourself look like a caricature of a regular lizard"
aspect of life down.

With their rounded snouts, freaky alien eyes, and stocky builds, there is no being in the known universe that would label these lizards as ordinary. Toadhead agamas belong to the genus Phrynocephalus, which contains over 40 different species all belonging to the Agamid family. They range across the Middle East with many species scattered across Afghanistan. Being a fairly understudied, not much is known about their ecology.

Toadheads dwell mostly on rocks and sandy outcrops. They possess large scales across along their giant alien eyeballs that prevent sand from getting in. Their body scales vary in colour, usually in the range of a light beige to a mottled red. They are however able to change the body colour to match their surroundings (almost entirely unlike the Chameleon which primarily changes it's colour according to it's mood). Toadheads also have no external ear openings on their head and broad connected teeth inside their mouth. Golly, how could the wacky little toadhead agamas get any weirder? If only they had spiky pink somethings that shot out from the sides of their mouth.

*womanly shriek of terror*

As it seems, they do indeed have spiky pink somethings that shoot out from the sides of their mouths. These spiky pink somethings are called labial flaps - flaps of skin that extent out from the upper jaw and overlap the lower. When threatened, the lizard will blare open its mouth to display the labial flaps and hiss. The positive upshot of this is that their entire head looks like a petunia that grew an angry face. Only one species of toadhead possesses this trait, and it known as the Secret Toadhead Agama (Phrynocephalus mystaceus). The flaps are most often used against rival lizards and also as a defense mechanism. Useful this is, because generally the last thing any predator expects from a small lizard is for it's face to quite suddenly explode into a flurry of pink.

Oh knock it off you little freak.

Another slightly less exiting and much less pink behavior of the toadheads is their ability to curve their tails in different directions. They do this to make themselves look bigger and somehow more frightening, but also just to get around faster. In times when there is too much heat radiating off the sand for them to feel comfortable, the toadhead will use it's tail as a prop and balance high on their legs. The tip of a toadhead tail is rounded and looks like it's been dipped in black ink. When the tail is curved, a bold stripe pattern is sometimes displayed going from their tails up to their torso. One of the other less-than-ordinary behaviors of the toadheads is their tendency to vibrate their body fast enough that they bury themselves in the sand, in a similar way that stingrays do. Except it involves 99.9% less water and 100% less sharks.

Toadhead agamas are known for having some of the most comical and ridiculous behaviors of any reptile. For a lizard that sees turning it's face into a flower as a terrifying threat display, it comes as no surprise that they are so pugnacious. You could learn a thing or two from these guys as well. If ever you feel stressed or threatened by an adversary, just expand your spiky pink labial flaps and hiss your brains out. Try curling your tail in weird swirly directions too. And if all else fails, wiggle around in a side-to-side motion until you've submerged yourself into the earth. You might just disturb them into submission.

The amount of smugness in that face is beyond measure. Photo by Damien Egan.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Those Prosperous Procyonids Part Tre: The Confusing Bassarisks

You can call it a cacomistle and you'd be right but call it a ringtail and you're wrong. You get a vice versa situation here too.

What a looker. © Robert Body

The first sentence of this post is quite the confusing conundrum, and as such, you can even find books today that show a "ring-tailed cat" (we'll call it the bassarisk to avoid confusion and so we sound smarter than our friends) such as the one above and declare it synonymous with the cacomistle. And as such, you'll find a picture of a cacomistle declaring it synonymous with the bassarisk.

And this is the cacomistle (Bassariscus sumichrasti). Public domain image.

So what's the difference? Well for the most part it falls within their range.
The cacomistle's range is shown here at the right. In case you don't know your countries, if you're in southern Mexico, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, or the northern tip of Panama, then you've seen a cacomistle. If you find yourself handling one (probably not a good idea if you're in the wild), you'll notice that cacomistles lack retractable claws. Its ears also come to a point and it has a relatively faded tail compared to its northern cousin the bassarisk (I'd like to note here that bassarisk is technically meant to give a common name to both cacomistle and "ring-tailed cat" as the genus they belong to is Bassariscus, but it makes our purpose here easier to explain).

Progressive Commercial Guy says "Gimme one".

And now we come to the range of the ringtai- I mean bassarisk (Bassariscus astutus). The bassarisk is smaller than its southern cousin, obtaining lengths of 33in (tail included) compared to a cacomistle's 39in (this is an American blog and if you want cm then you gotta find an online calculator like I had to to get these lengths). They only overlap in parts of Southern Mexico. Otherwise the bassarisk is found in the rest of the country as well as invading into the US and being found in Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. An impressive list of states for an animal coming from the South, mayhaps being beaten only by nine-banded armadillos in a range for a mammal (no racist jokes here).

The bassarisks won't stand for racism.

Now we've come to the part of the post where you get the lucky chance to learn some pretty neat facts. If you don't think the following are neat, then get off this blog. 

Fact one: bassarisks are 85% cookie dough, allowing them to squeeze into tight spaces. This also gives them their cuteness.

The bassarisk is one of the most agile mammals on Earth, with an ankle joint that can rotate over 180 degrees (up there with margays hanging by their paws and tarsiers turning their head in a half circle) and an (obvious) extremely long tail that provides good balance. Like something straight out of The Matrix, they can ricochet off walls to get to a higher point, and they can perform cartwheels and climb up cracks using stemming.

Both cacomistles and "ring-tailed cats" (they're also called ringtails, but there's also a majority of animals called that, if you don't believe me do a cursory search on Wikipedia for "ringtail") can and have been kept as pets, and the latter were used to keep mice away from miners' cabins back during the Gold Rush days. Up with genets and fennec foxes, I think a bassarisk is on my hopeful list for pets. Cacomistles and bassarisks often inhabit old buildings and deserted Native American ruins, probably using them for shelter as our common household cat does with boxes. That's all I got. Next we leave the banded tailed procyonids behind and we cover some South Americans.

If he could wave, this baby cacomistle would be waving bye.  ©TheFireTigress on DeviantART. 



Friday, July 19, 2013

Parrotfish: The Pretty Fish with Dirty Secrets

Jeez they look like a sad beauty pageant kick-off.

Parrotfish are often recognized as one of the most beautiful groups of fish in the ocean. Many species hold striking colours that dazzle and amaze, and make other less-colourful species of reef fish look like garbage. Little do many know that the parrotfish possesses an array of dark, dirty secrets behind it's trying-too-hard-to-be-pretty visage. Much like the common emotionally-confused teenage girl.

What are you hiding...

There are many different types of parrot fish, some with bizarre shapes and patterns and others that look like a melted clown. Roughly ninety species to be exact, belonging to the family Scaridae. However it's thought that parrotfish may actually be a subfamily of wrasses (which would make wrasses very sad). They can also be found inhabiting the subtropical shallows across the globe. While they mainly dwell in shallow reefs and rocky coves, parrotfish have been observed inhabiting harbors and marinas in schools to pluck out algae and small rocks to feed on. As you may have already guessed, the parrotfish looks almost indistinguishable from the parrot bird. Parrot birds were greatly offended by the comparison.

Here is a picture of a one.

One of the most characteristic features about the parrotfish is it's freakishly fused teeth, which form a sort of "beak" for crushing rocks and breaking coral polyps.

Wait that's not the right image.

That's more like it.

They have evolved this feature because all the parrotfish really eats is algae and rocks. Because of that, parrotfish play a major role in preventing algae overgrowth in the reefs they live on. Too much algae could inhibit the coral to grow. Thus the parrotfish gracefully scrapes the edible algae off of rocky surfaces, which contributes to the process of marine bioerosion. Parrotfish also have a set of specialized teeth located in their throats called pharyngeal teeth, that are used for grinding rocks and coral skeletons.

A set of pharyngeal teeth from a Bumphead parrotfish.

The reason for these teeth is because the parrotfish feeds off of the succulent coral polyps that live inside of coral skeletons. More specifically the algae growing inside the polyps. After the algae is digested, the unwanted rock material is then pulverized and jettisoned out the fish's butt. As a fine sand.

To better understand this process, imagine yourself eating a sandwich made of rocks. But in the middle of these rocks was a delicious layer of ham. So you grind up and eat the entire sandwich. Then you go to the bathroom and simply- actually I don't think this is really helping.

This sand however plays an important role in the formation of beaches and islands. It becomes kicked up and grouped together in large masses. Over time it mixes with other ocean sediments, creating large formations and shorelines. Think about that next time you book a summer vacation.

I know what you're thinking.

Most species of parrotfish are naturally-born hermaphrodites. They are born female, and as they age develop into males. These are called the initial (female) and terminal (male) phases. Parrotfish in the initial phase are usually much more dull-coloured than those in the terminal phase. There are exceptions to this, however. For example, some female Mediterranean parrotfish don't change sex at all. The Stoplight parrotfish can be born either male or female. Those who are born directly as males often will have the colour patterns of the initial phase.

Here is a Stoplight parrotfish in it's boring less-flashy initial stage.
And here is a picture of one in it's terminal phase.
Can you imagine if people did this too?

Remember, the next time you book a tropical island getaway, think of the parrotfish. Because it just crapped out that massive lump of half-digested sand that you call a beach paradise. You should be thanking them for their hard work.

Oh will you get out of here.


Oh Yeah, This Still Exists...

Welp, I know I've been neglecting you guys, starving you of posts and the crude humour, not-so scientific insights, and somewhat sensible ramblings, but I hope that this one makes up for it.

Recently, blogwriters Brenden Hall (who did the last posts on Burpee) and Ray Sabb (the one who writes about movies) stayed here in Illinois for a few days (well, Brenden stayed for 11), of which many adventures were taken. Here is the adventure most relevant to this blog: the Burpee Museum, again.

*heavenly music plays*

Those who know me from both online and in real life know that I praise this museum a lot. And I think they stepped that level of praise up more with their new exhibit: Homer's Odyssey.

Wait, wrong Odyssey.

Nope, that's not it either.

That's better.

Homer, the juvenile Triceratops, was found in 2005, where three years of rigorous work went into unearthing more remains and preparing those remains. Last year, he went through even more cycles of preparation before being shipped to Canada for mounting. Finally, his brand new exhibit officially (I say officially as Homer's skull as been on display for a while, just not as an actual exhibit) opened on June 29, and luckily, we got to see it the next day.

Homer in the front, Pachycephalosaurus in the back. Also that humanoid thing is Brenden.

It might be because it's taken long (well lengthwise, not "museum time"-wise), the fact that I love Homer, the fact he's our Rockford Triceratops, etc, etc, but this is honestly probably my favourite exhibit. From the amount of specimens held within to the Mike Skrepnick paintings and finally seeing Homer with a body, it's astonishing. There's not much more words I can use to describe it, so I'll let the pictures (mostly) do the talking.

Phylogeny wall 1 (Chasmosaurus at right)

Phylogeny wall 2 (Zuniceratops bottom)

Phlyogeny wall 3

The adult skull at far right was Homer's replacement during his time in Canada. Much happier to see it in proper use next to Homer's skull

That Pachycephalosaurus has no idea the paintings aren't real, unless there's a Night at the Museum scenario going on.

"Ernie" the Stangerochampsa, the most adorable crocodilian ever.

Have you ever wondered what a Triceratops butt looked like? Three pictures just satisfied you.

And then finally, some more random Burpee shots.

There's a Ray. 

That's it now. Go home. I might post more. Go.