Why are stonefish so poisonous?

Stonefish is perhaps one of the world's best camouflaged fish. But it is also the most venomous. Found in shallow waters of the tropical Indo-Pacific, stonefish stay in the muddy or rocky bottoms of marine environments, living among rocks or coral. It may look like a stone on the ocean floor and deceptively stays blended with the ocean floor while hunting. The skin covered by wart-like lumps helps it in camouflage. It has venomous spines and when stepped on accidentally or there is a contact, it can sting. The sting is painful and can be fatal. Did you know that the fish is a delicacy in certain parts of Asia after its venomous spines are removed.

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Is the Indian red scorpion to be feared?

The Indian red scorpion does not go after people, but it certainly needs to be feared. It is considered the most lethal scorpion in the world, and it will sting to defend itself. This can be dangerous, especially to little children.

These scorpions appear to prefer humid tropical and subtropical habitats, and are found in India, Pakistan, and Nepal etc. 2 to 3-1/2 inches long, they can be coloured from bright reddish orange to dull brown. They have small pincers, a thick tail and of course a large stinger.

The Indian red scorpion is a night hunter, which subdues prey using its chelae (claws) and stinger. It usually preys on small invertebrates like cockroaches, but sometimes will go for small vertebrates, too, like lizards and rodents.

Even though fearsome, the toxin of the Indian red scorpion has many uses in medicine.

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Where can we see funnel-web spiders?

The funnel-web spiders get their name from their webs which are shaped like a funnel. The funnel’s mouth opens wide, and the spider sits patiently in the narrow part. When an insect prey touches the web, the spider rushes out to capture it. At least 40 species have been identified among these spiders, several of them carrying highly toxic venom. Especially dangerous is the male of Atrax robustus, or the Sydney funnel-web spider, which has caused many deaths. It has become part of Sydney’s folklore. An antivenom for its toxin was introduced in 1981.

Funnel-web spiders mainly live in eastern Australia, in the moist forest regions and highlands. They can be from 1 cm to 5 cm in body length, with the females more heavily built than the males. The front part of their body is covered with a carapace which is sparsely haired and glossy, and the colour of the body can vary from black to brown.

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Is the coastal taipan highly venomous?

The coastal taipan has very powerful venom, though not quite as strong as that of its cousin, the inland taipan. Anyway, these coastal snakes are more dangerous to humans than their more toxic relatives, because they live in areas where more people live. The coastal taipan’s venom is considered as the third most toxic among all the land snakes. Effective anti-venom for this was developed in the mid-1950s, and before that a bite from the taipan meant sure death.

The coastal taipans are found along northern Western Australia and the Northern Territory, along the Queensland coast. They live in a range of green habitats from forests to open grasslands, thriving particularly well in sugarcane fields where there are lots of rodents to feed on. These snakes hunt mostly during the day, using their sharp eyesight, but when it gets too hot, they will hunt at night too.

The coastal taipan is Australia’s longest venomous snake, some of them measuring up to 3 metres.

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Where can we find a boomslang?

‘Boomslang’ literally means ‘tree snake’, in Afrikaans and Dutch. As the name suggests, the boomslang snakes prefer to live in areas with trees wooded grasslands, arid savannas, lowland forests, etc. They are found in sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in Botswana, Swaziland, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. They live on the trees and are active during the day. Extremely agile, they are very adept at climbing trees and gliding through the branches while hunting. The boomslang is a very dangerous, venomous snake. When the weather gets too cold, they take long, deep sleeps inside enclosed bird-nests.

The boomslangs can be of different colours, though most have a bright green colour.

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Why is the inland taipan a shy fighter?

Meet someone who’s peaceful and shy – but take care, he’s considered among the most venomous snakes in the world!

The inland taipan is common to the semi-arid regions of central east Australia. Its venom is considered to be the most toxic among all snakes. In spite of the deadly weapon they carry, these snakes are usually shy and like to be left alone. But they defend themselves fiercely, when provoked or harmed. First the snake raises the front of its body in an S-shaped curve, to make a warning display. If the adversary ignores this warning, it will strike instantly and accurately.

These shy inland snakes have a relative in the coastal regions, the coastal taipans, which are aggressive.

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What are the characteristics of the blue-ringed octopus?

The blue-ringed octopus may look cute and harmless at the first glance. But take care; it is an extremely poisonous animal!

These small octopuses are common in coral reefs and tide pools of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They usually stay hidden in crevices, shells or marine debris, their tan-coloured body blending in with the surroundings. But the ‘true colour’ of this shy little thing comes out when threatened by somebody. Bright blue rings appear all over its body as a warning signal, which have given it the name.

If a human is bitten by the blue-ringed octopus it can cause respiratory distress and paralysis and other symptoms too, like nausea, blindness and heart failure.

The venom is not just to fight the enemies, it helps in feeding too. These octopuses usually hunt small crabs and shrimp, but will also eat molluscs and small fish. The octopus delivers the paralyzing venom into the prey. The venom is produced by its saliva, which also contains digestive enzymes. So the flesh of the prey is partially digested before the octopus sucks it out. The blue-ringed octopus is not hurt by its own venom.

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Why is the box jellyfish so fearsome?

The box jellyfish feeds on prey like fish and shrimp, but it does not want their escape struggles to damage its delicate tentacles. So the jellyfish uses its powerful venom to stun or kill the prey instantly. The venom of the box jellyfish is among the most deadly in the world, attacking the heart, nervous system and skin cells. Humans struck with this venom sometimes go into shock and drown before reaching shore. The survivors have to endure intense pain for weeks, and carry scars where the tentacles touched. These jellyfish do not fire venom at anything that the tentacles touch. The stinging cells only react to some chemicals on the skin, so there’s no wastage of their weapon!

Also known as sea wasps and marine stingers, these deadly jelly-fish mostly live in the coastal waters near Northern Australia and in the Indo-Pacific. The box jellyfish are so named because of their cube-like shape. This group include various species of various sizes; the largest measuring about a foot across, and with tentacles about ten feet long. Some divers use tight-fitting clothes that cover the whole body to escape their venom.

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Why is Turritopsis dohrnii called the immortal jellyfish?

The Mediterranean Sea holds a wonder that beats all – something that never dies! It is a jellyfish whose scientific name is Turritopsis dohrnii.

Jellyfish start their lives as larvae, which attach themselves to a suitable place like a rock. Then they are transformed into polyps that have a small body with tentacles. These polyps then clone themselves to form others and create a colony, or a medusa, which is the jellyfish.

When this jellyfish dies, or is physically damaged, the decaying cells form new polyps, and later return to their jellyfish state. This way they could live forever under the right conditions! However, they don’t actually achieve immortality because these tiny wonders are eaten by fish or other animals, or die by other means.

Although the jellyfish has ‘fish’ in its name, it is not fish. It is not made of jelly either. Unlike a fish, it is an animal without a backbone found in oceans and seas around the world. The name jellyfish derives from the jelly-like bodies of these animals. Jellyfish are found in oceans and seas all over the world, in the deepest as well as in shallow water.

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How does the ocean quahog tell its own story?

Meet someone whose body tells his own life’s story that runs into centuries! The ocean quahog, a bivalve mollusc that can live more than 500 years, is the longest-lived solitary animal.

The shell of an ocean quahog is a treasure-house of information for scientists. Its shell grows periodically throughout life and the growth patterns visible on the shell function as a calendar. They help not only to tell the age of the animal, but also to know more about the marine environment in the past. For example, scientists would be able to tell from the shell of a quahog, how warm the seas were two centuries ago! The quahogs are the only surviving species of a family of similar claims that had lived during the Dinosaur era!

The ocean quahog (Arctica is landica) lives in the North Atlantic Ocean, buried in sandy sea beds. It feeds on the organic matter it gets by filtering water using its siphon. Interestingly, their feeding activity seems to depend on how much light is available! Thus, in the northern-most regions where they are found, they mostly feed during eight months of the year. During the remaining months, they feed for only a few days.

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How long do sea urchins live?

Urchin usually means a young child who is raggedly dressed and behaves badly. But sea urchins get their name from an old meaning of this word - the hedgehog. Sea urchins have a globular body that is full of spines, like a hedgehog.

The sea urchins belong to a group called echinoderms, or spiny-skinned marine invertebrates. The largest of this species are the red sea urchins, whose outer skeleton can have a diameter of more than 18 cm and spines, a length of up to 8 cm. They are a colourful sight under the sea, varying between a uniform red and dark burgundy, crawling slowly over the sea bottom using their spines as stilts.

The sea urchins are among the longest-living animals, with a life span of over 100 years. But that does not mean that they don't face any danger in the sea. They are eaten by some fish like the wolf eels, sea stars, crabs etc. Large adults, of course, are often left alone by these predators. But sea otters eat even the largest sea urchins, cracking them on rocks. Young sea urchins usually seek shelter under the spines of the adults, and emerge only when they reach approximately 5 cm in diameter.

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Why is a freshwater pearl mussel so special?

Everybody loves a good pearl. Did you know that the mussel it comes from is admirable, too?

The freshwater pearl mussels are one of the longest-lived invertebrates. Scientists have determined that they can live for up to 210-250 years. Scientifically known as Margaritifera margaritifera, these are bivalve molluscs, meaning they have a compressed body enclosed within a hinged shell. Inside the shell is a thick, iridescent layer called the mother-of-pearl. The freshwater pearl mussels live on the beds of fast-flowing rivers, feeding by taking in water and ingesting any fine organic matter that comes with it.  Just imagine, an adult mussel can filter more water in a day, than what you use for a shower! They live seemingly safe, partly buried in sand or gravel. Yet, they are never safe because of the fine-quality pearls they can produce. Humans have always exploited them in the search for pearls, and these mussels have now become an endangered species.

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How is the Bengal tiger an animal superstar?

Did you know that animal activists have categorized the Bengal tiger as an animal superstar? The tiger is listed under a special category called the ‘charismatic megafauna’ which uses the animal’s popular appeal as an instrument for environmental change.

Few animals exude power and grace like the tiger. Vividly coloured in yellow to burnished-orange with vertical black stripes and white underparts, the tiger is a solitary predator. It is the largest of the big cats and can reach a length of 10 feet and weigh as much as 260 kg. It is nocturnal and preys on buffalo, deer, wild boar and other large mammals. Tigers possess the longest canines and the strongest teeth of any big cat and usually kill with a powerful bite on the neck. They have retractable claws and can even climb trees in pursuit of their prey.

The Royal Bengal tiger is native to the Indian subcontinent with about 70 percent of the world’s population found in India. Historically this apex predator was hunted for sport and for trophies like its teeth and skin. Tiger parts are also used in traditional Chinese medicine. Rampant killing of this magnificent animal as well as habitat loss from human encroachment led to its rapid decline.

From as many as 100,000 tigers in the 1900s, the numbers reduced to 20,000 in the next 25 years. By 1965 the tiger population in India was on the brink of extinction. This led to tiger protection laws being passed in 1971 and the launch of Project Tiger in 1973. Due to persistent conservation efforts, today India’s tigers number around 3000.

However, further increase of the tiger population needs a corresponding increase in forest area. A single tiger needs a territory of around 100 sq km to operate and unless existing forest reserves are extended, an increasing tiger population cannot be contained.

This iconic and ultimate predator is the national symbol of our country. The IUCN lists the Royal Bengal tiger as ‘Endangered’ on its Red List.

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Do the rougheye rockfish live long?

Yes, they do! In fact the rougheye rockfish are among the longest-lived marine fish species, some of them recorded as old as 205 years. They grow very slowly, and mature late in life.

Does the name of this fish strike you as strange? They really have ‘rough eyes’, because of spines along the lower rim of the eyes. They are also nicknamed ‘blacktip’ rockfish because their pectoral fins have black ends.

The rougheye rockfish live in the Pacific Ocean, from northern Japan and the Bering Sea to southern California. They usually live at depths between 170 to 660 metres, near the seafloor around caves, crevices and boulder fields. They feed mostly on shrimp, but also go for crabs, tiny crustaceans and other fish. The females usually spawn between February and June, releasing larvae from their ovaries. These fish grow to a maximum length of about 97 cm, and their record weight is 6.7 kg.

For most part of the year, the larger fish remain solitary or roam in small groups, but during some periods, the rougheye rockfish form schools.

For most part of the year, these fish remain solitary, but during some periods, the rougheye rockfish roam around in schools (group).

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How big is the Kodiak bear?

Kodiak bears are the biggest brown bears in the world - almost as big as the polar bear. Adult males stand at 10 feet on their hind legs and weigh around 635 kg. The largest recorded Kodiak bear in the wild weighed 751 kg.

This bear is only found in the Kodiak archipelago of Southwestern Alaska, where it has lived in peace for thousands of years. These bears have been cut off from the mainland since the last Ice Age, and have evolved into a well knit c ommunity that is more social than other brown bears. They do not have many territorial conflicts even in smaller areas, as food is abundant and the coastal areas that they inhabit have a profusion of shellfish and salmon.

Kodiak bears build up their fat reserves by gorging on salmon before hibernating for the winter. Soon-to-be mothers will dig dens or enter caves by October. They usually give birth during the winter hibernation and emerge with their new cubs in spring. Mothers are fiercely protective of their young and look after them for around 3 years till they become mature.

The Kodiak archipelago has an abundance of fruits, berries and salmon and the Kodiak bear population has remained stable till now. Possible future threats are human encroachment and reducing food sources due to climate change.  They are listed as a species of ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN.

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