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The Art of Being a Mother


The quality which make mammals unique among the rest of animals, is the ability to give milk to their children. But, is there any other creature able to do something like this? The answer is YES AND NO. When an ability is useful in nature, it is not rare that different kinds of creatures try to experiment with it, creating new devices for the same objective. Sometimes you can use a rock to hammer a nail and get the same result…or even a better one, and this is the case here.

The Eelpout (Soarces viviparus) was already a well known fish because of its capacity of breathing air, giving birth to living brood, and especially for its good taste in european kitchens. But recently something really amazing of this fish has been discovered. Many fish (even some sharks) are able to give birth to living brood, but the eelpout children were born much bigger and developed than any other fish. How?

What the scientists discovered was that the eelpout was able to feed their children inside her, just as a kangaroo with her baby in her natural bag. Fish almost in general have no uterus, so the ovules are fertilized in the water or (in the case of viviparous fish) in the ovary itself, being the last one the case here. During all the process in which ovules become eggs and finally little fish, each egg is surrounded by a layer or cells, or follicles. So when the fat supply in the eggs ends, the little fish attach their mouths to the follicles and start sucking a substance rich in fat and proteins, just as if their mother would be giving milk to them.

This discovery happened by chance and was a real surprise to science.

What else could be out there?

#Version en espanol (Spanish version)#

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Forever Young

All the creatures we know have a life cycle. All of them born, grow, reproduce and die. Maybe some of them can resist or stop this process for a while, frizzing themselves as Tardigrades do, but all of them finally unavoidably become old…almost all of them. Turritopsis nutricola is a jellyfish of just half centimeter wide. But it has an ability that no other creature known has.

Just as the cycle of butterflies, many jellyfish has a cycle with many transformations, from a polyp like colony, to swimming microscopic larvae and then into mature Jellyfish. Adults finish their purpose of reproducing, and then dies, but Turritopsis don’t. Because Turritopsis, once arrived to the adult age and reproduce itself, has the amazing capacity, to revert its aging process. Just as if the butterfly could become a caterpillar again, this incredible creature can go back once again into its polyp form and start the cycle again…and again…and again…

How does it happen? When we are born, all our cell are neutral, and then receive the instruction of becoming blood cells, bone cells, neurons, etc. This jellyfish, can turn its cells again to this primary neutral state, and order them to become what they were before being and adult. Going back to its young state once again.

This discovery is not new. Turritopsis hability has been studied since the nineties, and scientists have seen this creature repeating its cycle dozens of times.

Could the secret of immortality be here?

Version en espanol (http://seresincreibles.wordpress.com/2010/09/27/eternamente-joven/)

New Podcasts section

Hi people.
I just would like to invite you to the new podcast section of this blog. Just look up and you will find it next to the Index section.
I hope you to enjoy it.

See you next mission ūüôā

linneus longissimusYou may think that the longest animal in the world is the blue whale with its incredible 33 meters long. Maybe you can think on the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, with its amazing 36 meters long tentacles. Or, if you include creatures from the past, you could think on some¬†diplodocus¬†¬†like dinosaur, with no less than 60 meters from head to tail. But actually the longest living creature in the world is a simple and fragile worm.

The Bootlace Worm (Lineus Longissimus) its a worm from the family of nemertean. All of them are identifiable by the harpoon like tentacle they have near the mouth and which they use to sting or trap little preys to feed. These creatures are common in Britannic coasts. They can be found in sandy or muddy beaches, or ever hidden between rocks or corals. 

They are only 1 cm thick, but despite this, they easily reach 30 meters long. Some specimens of 55 meters have been founded. More than this, their bodies are so flexible that it has been calculated that stretched it could overcome the 60 meters long.

But despite this amazing size, this creature is inoffensive and really fragile. Its only defense is a kind of mucus of pungent and disagreeable smell.

Why a creature reaches such size? Size is always an advantage against predators. Also, when you combine a simple and sedentary way of life (like just sit and wait for preys) with a big lifespan, you can get creatures like this. But all these are just suppositions, the real reason for this worm to be like this, is a mystery.

Where does Red Tides come from?

Red Tides are a hugely common phenomena on south pacific waters. Each year news talk about people sick and even dead because of eating seafood infested by Red Tides. But, what are Red Tides?

I introduce to you, the Dinoflagellates. These creatures are among the most common beings you can find in the plancton. With more than a thousand species, these microscopic plants and their companions, the Diatomeas, are like the grass which almost all the vegetarian sea animals  eat.

But, some of these species are poisonous. Not for the animals who eat them, but for humans who eat these animals. When the ambiental conditions get optimal for them (more than enought sunlight and nutrients on water), these creatures multiply by billions, painting the waters on red, yellow, green, and even blue. (the color of the Chlorophila inside them) and there is when the situation became dangerous.

Fish in these conditions die because the Dinoflagellates get stuck in their gills and suffocate them. Mollusks doesn’t¬†show any kind of simptomes. BUT, if you¬†eat a single molluks infested with Red Tides without boiling it enought, you can espect tree kind of reactions (each one of them caused by the venom of a different Dinoflallelate specie):

-Diarrea 

-Amnesia

-Paralisis and then dead

The first two cases are just unconfortable, but in the third, you just have a few minutes to get to a hospital before your breath system get paralised. So, how can we avoid this dangers? Simply, buy always seafood from authorised commerces, and ALWAYS boil it before eating. Lemon and vinagre doesn’t neutralize the venoms. These simple habits could save you from terrible consequences.

http://seresincreibles.wordpress.com/2010/08/16/de-donde-viene-la-marea-roja/¬† <–Version en Espanol (Spanish Version)

The Assassin Snail

New Zealand, the South Island. A humid forest near de Augustus Mount. After a bit of rain, an earth worm goes out from its refuge just to take a bit of air, and maybe explore a new territory. No sings of birds or hedgehogs near. All seems safe. Suddenly, a movement takes the attention of the worm. Seems to be the movements of a snail, nothing to fear of.

But, this snail is different, is a really big one, with a dark shell and black body, the snail approach the unsuspected worm, open its mouth, and in a flash movement, sucks the worm as if it were an spaghetti. This is, the New Zealand Giant Snail.

This creatures live only in this little part of the world and, despite their amazing characteristics, they are now in danger. Their habitat has been owned by a mining company, and all the known specimens has been taken in captivity or moved to a new territory by conservationist organizations. And, despite there are movements now fighting for saving them, their future is uncertain.

Useful links:

The ECO Site

Version en Espa√Īol (Spanish Version)

Aliens in the deep

Imagine yourself exploring a world, where everything is surrounded by darkness and mystery. Suddenly, a kind of round white spaceship approach to you, it doors open and you find yourself face to face with an ghostly alien creature with transparent body, many arm finished by big claws, a greek helmet like head, and four huge composed eyes looking at you.

This is the Phronima. A crustacean of the family of Amphipods, which has adapted itself to survive in the dark world of the deep seas. Phronimas are predators, each specie specialized for hunting jelly animals like jellyfish, slaps, or ctenophores (comb jellies). Some of them life in the bottom and some other swims looking for they preys, using a really amazing strategy

After catching a prey enough big for their purposes, they eat only the inner part of it leaving the external part intact and finally they make holes as entrance and exit of the structure. Now they have their own floating ship for traveling the oceans, where they can just worry about propelling it time to time, and wait in the entrance for any unsuspecting prey.

But, despite their aspect and macabre habits, they really love their children. Once the new floating house is ready, the females use it as nest for their eggs and hatchery for their larvae. There, the little ones are save, and their mother can bring them food until they could survive for their own.

Which other amazing mysteries can be seen in this dark deep world?

The Bacteria Hunter Virus

Since ancient times. People told stories about miraculous waters of specific pound and rivers with the ability to cure many kinds of sickness, but it was just until the twentieth century when the cause of this miracle was discovered.

If a virus was a tennis ball, a bacteria would be the entire tennis field. Formally called as Bacteriophages (bacteria eaters), these are an entire order or viruses with many identified species, al of them with the same goal: survive, multiply, and spread. But, as all the viruses, they can’t replicate by themselves. They need to use the reproductive systems of other living beings to do it. Some viruses chose animal cells for this purpose, other chose plants, fungus or protozoa. They, chose bacterias.

Bacteriophages are among the most common living beings on earth. They are everywhere bacterias are and each specie has specialized itself for invading an specific type of cell. When they find a bacteria of the kind they are specialized for. They land on it as a spaceship on a new planet and inject their DNA (or ARN)  through the cell wall. The genetic material replaces a part of the bacterial genes, making the victim to replicate the different parts of the virus as many times as possible. Finally, the new viruses assemble themselves and burst the bacteria from inside, getting free to to search new victims to invade.

Despite some successful research was made on this creatures as a cure for diseases, the discovery of antibiotics eclipsed this part of medical science just until some years ago, when bacterias started becoming more and more resistant. However while the west countries focused themselves in the research of antibiotics, the Soviet Union continued looking for new uses of bacteriophages and even using them on their armies as medicine. Is just now that these old archives of the cold war are being opened once again.

Could be this creatures the next phase of our fight against dead?

Version en espanol (spanish version)

The worm from the abyss

From 1500 meters to much deeper in the sea, where there is just darkness, high pressures and almost no oxygen, there also exist some impressive geological formations which comes from the deep of the earth. These formations are called Hydrotermal Vents. Geysers like natural chimneys which bring extremely hot water from inside earth, full of minerals and toxic gases like hydrogen sulfide (H2S).

But, here, there is life, lots of it. The high¬†pressures here don’t allow the hot water to boil, and the¬†minerals and gasses give living¬†supplies for and amazing creature: the Riftia worms. These animals have no mouth or even a digestive system but they manage to get food for living. They born having a digestive system, which they use just to let enter and store and special kind of bacteria inside their bodies, and then, it modifies itself, to give these bacteria a friendly environment where to live. Then, the worm replace its mouth for a feather like organ which it uses to absorb the gases and minerals from the geiser. These minerals are transported by its blood to where the bacterias are, and finally, these tiny inhabitants¬†transform the toxic elements into nutritive molecules which the worm can feed on. This is a symbiotic relation, where the worm gives protection and some of the molecules for the chemical reaction, and the bacteria provides food both.

These Riftia worms live in one of the most extreme environments known. But, they are notoriously successful here. They swarm by thousands, grow up to three meters and have no predators. The only thing they have to do if disturbed, is just to hide their feathers inside their protective tubes, made on chitin. This is why they are a meaningful example of why live is always exploring new habitats.

But the most important, the discovering of creatures like them, changed dramatically the known concepts of live.

Version en espanol (spanish version)

The Water Spider

Yeah, spiders can dive. These amazing creatures can be seen in freshwater slow current lakes and ponds, arround Europe and Asia. They live all their lives in water hunting aquatic insects and small fish. Curiously they have lungs, and breathe oxygen as any other spider, so, how can they live under water?

Their technique to do this is as clever as fascinating. The spiders breathe trough the end of their abdomens, which they show outside the water to get air. All their bodies, specially their legs and abdomen, are covered by thin hairs. With these hairs they can trap and manipulate air bubbles from the surface. So when they want to dive they cover their abdomen with a single air bubble with enough supply for a while.

With the air they take and a bit of silk water spiders builts their nests with the form of a big bubble atached to any solid element from the bottom. Is in this nest where they storage their air supplys and also keep their eggs and childs.

The nest also is usefull to hunt. When a possible prey touch a silk string the vibration advice the spider, who quicly goes out, captures the prey and take it inside the big bubble.

Is due to this structure that the water spider can live permanently underwater without risking going outside. Nature can pose big tasks for survival, but as big is the barrier, as amazing is the solution.

Version en espanol

(spanish version)