Platypus

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Okay, it’s time to talk about the platypus. Because why aren’t we ALWAYS talking about the freaking platypus? The platypus is also known as the duck-billed platypus…because apparently someone thought they ought to differentiate the duck-billed platypus from all the other types of platypuses that don’t exist. The platypus, in defining its own existence, pretty much looked around at all the other animals and said, “I’ll do what I want.” And so it did. His feet look a lot like otter feet, and his body is rather beaver-like, which works well with his tail, which he blatantly ripped off of the beaver. Then there’s his duck parts, which wouldn’t be that weird…I mean, if he was a duck. He’s got a face that looks like a duck’s bill, and webbed duck feet, and oh yeah, he lays eggs. Did I mention he was a mammal? Because I don’t know if you’ve brushed up on your mammal facts lately, but mammals don’t lay eggs. Except the platypus. Oh okay, and also the echidna which is awesome but I don’t have the time to go into that right now, because respect the platypus. So, to start things off, otter, beaver, duck.

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The platypus lives along rivers and streams in Eastern Australia (including Tasmania, he can’t miss out on Tasmania). He lived there happily for some time before the Europeans came along in the late 1700’s and bothered to take notice. They figured out he existed, and promptly sent word (and pelt) back to Great Britain, where they had a good laugh at the hilarious joke of an animal that obviously didn’t exist. Good hoax though. I guess I don’t blame them for being sceptical, I haven’t even told you about the venom yet.

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The platypus is semi-aquatic, and hunts underwater in rivers and streams. He eats shellfish, insects, and worms…not that strange, right? But here’s the thing: when he goes underwater, he closes his eyes. And his nose. AND his ears. So, how’s he finding the food? You guessed it, he’s got a crazy superpower. Inside his bizarro duck bill, he has electroreceptors. Yup. So add the shark to the list of animals he’s stealing traits from. He can sense the tiny electric currents emitted by the shellfish and insects and worms…he has a special section of his brain dedicated to it, so with nothing better to compare it to, he essentially has electric vision. Um, awesome. And shark.

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The platypus’ webbed feet are excellent for swimming, he uses his front feet to paddle, and his back feet and his tail help him steer, and look awesome. He has some nasty skin flaps that come down over his eyes and ears when he’s swimming, keeps the water out. The platypus looks graceful and quite at home in the water, but his excellent swim-dynamics make the platypus rather awkward while on land. He can fold up his webbing a bit, so his claws are better exposed. Still though, when he walks, he pretty much looks like a lizard…which, come to think of it, it’s kind of weird that lizards aren’t better at walking. While we’re on the subject of lizards, platypus eggs are round and leathery…they resemble lizard eggs more than bird eggs. So, lizard.

Grand Canyon Nat. Park: Desert Spiny Lizard (Sceloporus magister

Platypuses are mammals, as in, has mammary glands, right? Well the platypus has those, that’s all well and good. But she forgot to have teats. So she secretes milk through the pores of her skin, it pools up in her abdomen, and her tiny little hairless lima bean-sized babies lap it up, doing body shots of milk off of mommy for 3-4 months, until they’re big enough to venture out of the little river-side burrow into the water to hunt for themselves. The females also have two ovaries…but only one of them functions. Woops, I guess?

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You’re ready to hear about the venom, aren’t you? First off, I will mention that only the males are venomous. Which I think sucks, because it’s not like the fathers are at home in the burrow, defending their babies from predators. Anyways, the male platypus has a venomous barb on each of his BACK feet. Because that’s where you want your venomous barbs, on your back feet, beneath your gigantic beaver tail. They use their venom for defense, it can kill an animal as big as a dog, and is extremely painful to humans. So don’t go around threatening platypuses. Those jerks who used to hunt them for their pelts (illegal now) were sometimes seen with a platypus hanging from their bodies. That’s right, the venomous barb can support the weight of the entire platypus. You want the platypus out of your arm? You take him out yourself. They are also theorized to use their barbs against other males when competing for females during sexy season. I know I would.

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Eyeballs, you ask? Yeah, so they have double cones, trying once again, to prove that they aren’t mammals. You know who has double cones? Fish and reptiles and birds. And not mammals. Basically, the platypus has eyes that have more in common with a deep water fish than with a mammal. So, hagfish.

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I’ll leave you with one final fact to remember the duck-billed platypus by: He stores fat reserves in his TAIL. So, tasmanian devil.

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So we’ve finally answered the age-old question: What do you get when you cross an otter, beaver, duck, shark, lizard, hagfish, and tasmanian devil? Absolute perfection.

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Okapi

The day has finally come, it’s time to talk about the okapi! If you were previously unaware of this fine stripey-butted creature, you might be inclined to believe that it was the result of some overly creative mad zoologist, bent on breeding stripes into every animal possible. I mean really, they’ve made ligers by breeding lions with tigers, and zonkeys by breeding zebras and donkeys (seriously, check that one out, it’s amazing),  so it’s only logical that this okapi creature would be the result of a zebra bred with a… a… llama, I guess? Well, it turns out that we have good old fashioned evolution to thank for the okapi. Their closest relative is, surprisingly, not the zebra, but the giraffe. You wouldn’t guess it by the markings, but the relation starts to become clear the second you start comparing their tongues (which, obviously, you do almost immediately). Okapis and Giraffes both have these amazingly disgusting, incredibly long, blue/black prehensile tongues. They use them to strip leaves from trees, and then while they’re at it, they go ahead and use them to clean their eyelids and the insides of their ears.

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This tongue belongs to a giraffe (duh), but you get the idea. We met him at the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and fed him leaves. They have an okapi there too…but we didn’t get to feed him any leaves.

Okapis are native to the Ituri Rainforest, which is in the Northeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their stripes, in addition to being awesome, help them to stay camouflaged in the forest, and their giant ears allow them to hear predators from afar and steer clear of danger (nobody WANTS to get eaten by a leopard, when it comes right down to it). The males grow these cute little pointy horns that face backwards so as not to get caught on any branches. Okapis are solitary animals, and generally don’t hang out, unless they’re a mother and baby, but they do manage to keep in contact…disgustingly, of course. They have these scent glands on their feet that produce this stinky tar-like gook that they leave behind them as they walk, thus alerting the other okapis of their whereabouts. The males also spray pee all over the place to mark their territory, but it pretty much seems like all male animals do that, so I’m not going to consider it special or interesting. Moving on.

I recently considered how horrifying the okapi’s face would be if he didn’t have any ears. Seriously, look at the pictures and imagine him with no ears. He looks like some sort of an evil skeleton. But then, put the ears back on, allow the stripes back into your field of vision, he’s cute, all over again!!

So…have I convinced any skeptics that the okapi should be worshipped? I hope so, I’m big into okapi worship, myself. If you’d like to sport an okapi on your t-shirt, or your kid’s shirt, on the off-chance that you don’t already have a closet full of okapi t-shirts, then check out my shop!

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Click the pic to see okapi tees at Sevengilldesign.com

Trashline Orb Weaver Spiders

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When my husband and I lived in Los Angeles, we lived in a little backhouse with a tiny walled-in backyard. Our tiny yard had a huge avocado tree, a fig tree, and tons of shade. It didn’t take long for me to discover that we were not the only ones inhabiting this space. SPIDERS!! Yup. Tons of ‘em. We had orb weavers and brown and black widows and sow bug eaters and…now what in the world was this little spider doing with a corpse collection in her web?? I had no idea what this spider was up to, but she had a fairly standard looking orb web, and then in front of that, she had a long line of old fly corpses and plant bits and who-knows-what, all webbed together in a disturbing and disgusting line, at the top of which, she had built a little nook for herself to hide-out in. It was awesome. So, naturally, I named her Lady Corpsington and began spying on her daily, camera in-hand. Lady Corpsington lived there, next to my back steps, for a few months before she packed up and disappeared. I was sad to see her go, but delighted to find all of her many daughters making their own corpse decorations in different spots around my backyard (and once in my kitchen window). I pretty much named them all Lady Corpsington, I guess I have a habit of doing that, because our resident opossum, Possum-O, must have introduced us to at least 4 different babies over the years, and we called them all Little-O.

ImageHere’s a close-up of Lady Corpsington. I just love her fuzzy gray head and her many many eyeballs!!

So here’s what I learned:

Trashline Orb Weaver Spiders construct these “trashlines” in the center of their web to help disguise themselves…apparently trash (aka corpses) makes excellent camouflage! They also hide their egg sacs within the trash. That trashline was sitting there right next to my back door for weeks before I realized it was more than random debris stuck in an old spider web. There are numerous species of trashline spiders, and they can be found throughout most of the US…you just have to look closely at that floating debris!

ImageThis is one of Lady Corpsington’s babies. She must have chosen her web location poorly, because her trash was mostly sticks, rather than corpses (not very nutritious), and she died within a week of building her web here. She sure was pretty while she lived though! ImageThis one made more of a trash heap, and I wouldn’t have taken it for a trashline spider at all, except for the fact that I’d been stalking Lady Corpsington and all of her spawn, and I recognized that adorable fuzzy gray head and stripey body. So I guess they make trash areas sometimes too, I should alert science! ImageThis is the one who made her home in my kitchen window…yes, on the inside. It was pretty disgusting, and I probably shouldn’t have allowed it to go on right next to the kitchen sink, but by this time, I was pretty attached to the Corpsington family, and I just didn’t have the heart to disturb her. Her corpses were more in a heap than a line as well, I guess that’s a thing.

We haven’t come across any of these lovely ladies yet since moving back to Maryland, but I’m keeping my eyes peeled for debris, and so should you!