Saturday’s Featured Organism: Psittacula krameri

Psittacula krameri

I can't post this under the "Face to face" imprint because I'm a fuckwit and couldn't take any photo of the parakeets I saw, so here's a "Friday's Featured Organism" article and a stock photo from Google Images. Enjoy.

I’m back home, but this organism is still relevant to my short but sweet roman trip. Wait, what? A parrot like Psittacula krameri in an italian city like Rome? Fuck yes. Ring-necked Parakeets escaped or freed from captivity (they’re popular pets, after all) have been relatively common in many big european cities with warm climate for years now. I had seen them in Barcelona some years ago, so I read about them and discovered that they were in Rome too. However, I had started to think that the roman population was starting to die out, since I frequently visit Rome and I had never seen them. Until the other day, when I discovered a huge colony in a beautiful garden near the Appian way. There were dozens and dozens of beautiful emerald-green parrots flying around, many of them carrying twigs to help building the many enormous colonial nests on the pines nearby. The birds, and the fact that the park was so green and full of palm trees gave the impression of being somewhere in the garden of a powerful and ancient asian king.

While it’s an alien species (and alien species in general are one of the biggest danger to global ecosystems) I don’t think that the Ring-necked Parakeet causes any trouble to local biodiversity, especially since, at least here in Europe, it’s confined to big cities, as far as I know. So I, for one, welcome our new parakeet overlords.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Scutigera coleoptrata

Scutigera coleoptrata

What else can I say, other than “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”?

I’ve always found silly how many people find spiders particularly disgusting because “they have so many legs!”. If 8 is too much, what about the centpedes? Look at this fucker, for example. Sure, there are Chilopoda with more legs (and their cousins, the Diplopoda, have of course even more), but Scutigera coleoptrata sure wants to make use of its set to win the award for “Most freakishly disturbing lovecraftian arthropod on the planet”. Look at those fucking legs! They’re everywhere! And they’re so long, and there’s a lot of other appendages between them too (wow, that sounded dirty)! This animal is a very common house “pest” (although, since it preys on insects, one would think that’s also an help against other pests); as most Chilopoda, it has a poisonous “bite” (although, since Chilopoda inoculate venom through modified legs, it’s technically not a real bite), but i’s not dangerous for humans, and it’s also not nearly as aggressive as other centipedes, like the genus Scolopendra. A fast and nocturnal predator, S. coleoptera certainly is a fascinating animal. But boy, is it disturbing.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Vibrio fischeri

Vibrio fischeri

Glooooooowww

I love all living things (in a total non-hippy way), but it’s clear that I’ve my preferences, and prokaryotes don’t get as much coverage as Eukarya around here usually. So here’s a bacterium, and what’s cooler than a normal bacterium? A bacterium that glows in the dark. Yes, Vibrio fischeri is a gram-negative marine bacterium, widely studied for its bioluminescence. Not only it lights up, but it’s also capable of symbiosis with marine animals like fishes and squids, which use its bioluminescence to their own advantage, and have co-evolved with these bacteria so that it’s easier for the microorganisms to colonize specific organs in their bodies. As far as I know, it’s also used in ecotoxicology studies, probably in part because it should be easier to check the growth of a glowing bacterium than the growth of a non-shiny one.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Dryococelus australis

Dryococelus australis

Giant insects, hellish forgotten islands... What is this, Peter Jackson's King Kong?

Everyone seems to be talking about this story, and I can see why. Usually, I’m more for the protection of entire key ecosystems or group of organisms rather than single, extra-endangered species whose ecological niche is today pretty small and irrelevant, but I understand the importance that these species can have as symbols of environmental protection for common people. This story in particular seems to me really touching, although many people would probably consider Dryococelus australis, the “tree lobster” (actually a giant stick insect), an horrible animal that deserves to be extinct (and here lies the limit and the superficiality of many people’s environmentalism: protect it if it’s huge and famous, burn it if it’s not a vertebrate). This beautiful critter was wiped out by introduced rats on its native Lord Howe island, Australia, by 1930, and was thought to be lost forever. In 2001, however, the walking stick rose from the ashes: a dangerously small population of around 30 individuals was discovered living in one of the few bushes that grows on the hellish Ball’s Pyramid, a small volcano renmant in the middle of the Tasman sea, resembling a giant blade emerging from the depths of some lovecraftian underwater city. Those insects were the last of their kind, and they had survived for all that time on that forgotten rock. 4 animals were captured, only a couple survived, but it was enough: now there’s a relatively stable captive population, all descendants of those two insects, Adam and Eve, and currently there are plans to try to reintroduce the tree lobster to its native Lord Howe island, after more than 80 years. If Dryococelus australis went extinct, nobody would have noticed, and I don’t think there would have been any additional repercussions on the environment (maybe there were at the time it was first wiped out from Lord Howe, but I’m talking about new repercussions). It is however remarkable how this seemingly doomed bug, withouth the help of any environmental organization, scientist, or support from the general public, secretly clinged to life for more than 80 years on that forgotten rock, under a single bush, with a population of less than 30 individuals. Don’t you feel that such an incredible animal, such an incredible feat of durability against all the odds, deserves to live to see another day? Don’t you think it could beĀ  a symbol of biodiversity protection just as good, and probably even better, than the usual tigers, pandas and sea turtles?

Friday’s Featured Organism: Somniosus microcephalus

Somniosus microcephalus

That's one creepy-ass shark.

Still snowy as hell, so here’s Somniosus microcephalus, the Greenland Shark, a huge (6 meters long) motherfucker typical of cold, northern sea waters. This creepy fuck has poisonous flesh that has neurotoxic effects on man and other animals, and thus can’t be used as food unless properly prepared. Wikipedia just informed me that the copepod Ommatokoita elongata permanently colonizes the shark’s eyes (as you can see in the photo), eating the corneal tissue, but apparently the crazy mofo doesn’t give a flip because it doesn’t rely on keen eyesight for survival – and looking at this photo it’s not really that hard to believe.

Weekend’s Featured Organism: Strix nebulosa

Strix nebulosa

COME AT ME BRO

Yeah, I know, I’m late with the featured organism and this week there have been less updates than when I had to study for the last 2 exams. That’s probably because there’s a FUCKING SNOWSTORM here in Italy right now: days and days and days of snow, and thus, being the endotherm that I am, all of my energy (the part that is not devoted to the study of Physics, at least) is being used to mantain my optimal body heat. Or at least that’s the best excuse I could think of. Cheer up, anyway, because I bring you the joy of Strix nebulosa, the Lapland Owl, which is possibly the most awesome owl to ever exist on this planet. It’s easily recognizable thanks to the big round face with the two distinct (usually white) “C” shaped signs between the eyes, to the enormous size and also thanks to the fact that, quite frankly, it’s one badass mofo. Also, as you can see, it doesn’t give a fuck about snow. It fucking loves snow. God, I wish I was a Lapland Owl right now.

Friday’s Featured Organism: Amanita phalloides

Amanita phalloides

Shroom... of DOOM!

For the first fungus-based post here at The Cladogram we’ve goth the poisonous Amanita phalloides, the deadliest european mushroom, also known as Death Cap. My ongoing war with Jerry Coyne forces me to point out that the young fruity body (the mushroom) of this species is shaped like a phallus, hence the name “phalloides”.

Fungi are amazing and ecologically important organisms, and they’re weirdly misunderstood by non-biologists: usually, people think of them as plants. Hell, usually even in Biology Faculties they’re included into basic botany courses, even though the professors themselves of course explain that they’re more closely related to animals (the same way ALL of the diverse group of Protozoa are usually introduced in basic zoology courses – I think it’s time to create a separate course for “minor” Eukarya clades that are neither animals or plants). Just like animals, fungi are heterotrophs (many of them are fundamental in the process of decomposition of dead organic matter, and many are parasites of living beings), they have glycogen as an energy storage molecule, their cells contain chitin (in fungi it forms cell walls, while plant cell walls are of course made of cellulose), and they can’t do photosynthesis. Fungi, Animalia and Amoebozoa are all part of the clade Unikonta, while plants and other groups like green algae are part of the clade Plantae. So yeah, support the fungal secession from the plant tiranny!